100 years of Abdias do Nascimento: Brazil’s greatest modern day black leader


Note from BW of Brazil: Today marks a milestone that should be remembered in the worldwide struggle for black liberation. On this date in 1914, Abdias do Nascimento, the most prominent and recognized modern day Afro-Brazilian /human rights activists was born. Nascimento’s accomplishments throughout his 97 years of life are simply too long to highlight in one post, but the objective today is simply to remember his life and a few of his accomplishments.

Although most people in the English-speaking world have never heard of Nascimento, consider how he was described in 1999’s Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience edited by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah. This 2,000 page encyclopedia featuring thousands of entries about personalities, countries, events in relation to Africa and its descendants referred to Nascimento as the “most complete African intellectual of the 20th century”. One of the encyclopedia’s editors, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, was in fact the last person to interview Nascimento before his death in 2007 for his documentary series “Black in Latin America”. Nascimento was university professor, activist, politician, actor, director, writer, poet and an accomplished painter. For his accomplishments and struggle for racial equality, Nascimento was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. 

Books about Abdias do Nascimento
Books about Abdias do Nascimento

Although the 17th century quilombo (maroon society) leader Zumbi of Palmares is more widely celebrated in terms of black consciousness and struggle in Brazil, and he doesn’t have the fame of figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, WEB DuBois or Patrice Lumumba, Nascimento’s importance in the 20th century in connecting black Brazilians to the international struggle of the African Diaspora should not be underestimated or forgotten. In fact as Ronald Walters points out, Nascimento:

“…became the unofficial representative of the Brazilian Black population at several international conferences, including the Sixth Pan African Conference in Dar es Salaam in 1974 and the Second World Festival of Black and African Art and Culture (FESTAC) in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977. In the First Congress of Black Culture in the Americas in Cali, Colombia, in August of 1977, Nascimento made a proposal for a single language to be spoken by all people of African descent, echoing the proposal put forth by Wole Sonyinka.”

Continuing on Nascimento’s place in the African Diaspora, Walter’s writes:

“Abdias do Nascimento is important because his work in Brazil and his residence in many parts of the world clearly shows that as a militant Pan Africanist, he has illuminated to many African-origin scholars and activists the workings of racism in Brazil and the struggle of Black Brazilians to overcome racism.”

With these words, BW of Brazil recognizes that any understanding of the situation and history Brazil’s African descendant population must begin with the works of this important man. His name, contributions and honors have also been featured on this blog from time to time. So, on what would have been his 100th birthday, we invite you to learn a little more about the man below. Be sure to check out the short documentary at the bottom of the page with full English subtitles. 

Activists promote a day in homage of Abdias do Nascimento

By Isabela Vieira

Event celebrates 100 years of the birth of Abdias do Nascimento
Event celebrates 100 years of the birth of Abdias do Nascimento

The centenary of the birth of Abdias Nascimento will be remembered on Friday (14), with tributes to the political and activist for racial equality. The recognition of his work will feature artists and intellectuals in Cais do Valongo, an ancient landing point of enslaved Africans in Brazil.

According to event organizer and director of the Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro Brasileiros (Institute of Afro -Brazilian Studies and Research), Elisa Larkin, Abdias Nascimento was one of the first intellectuals to denounce the impact of slavery on the culture of the country. “More than that, he was a human rights activist of the discriminated black population, at a time that the cause didn’t enjoy any endorsement of the society. It was a moment of denial of racism,” she said.


To remember Abdias, the programming debated the theories of the intellectual. “He was author of proposals for inclusion of an organizational model of the Brazilian state that was egalitarian from the socioeconomic and political point of view, and that would respect all its identities and cultures,” said Elisa.

Ceremonies will begin at 12pm, with recitation of poetry by singer/musician Nilze Carvalho followed by a presentation of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater) and debates. Invited for lectures are professor University of São Paulo professor Kabengele Munanga, philosopher Sueli Carneiro, director of the Geledés Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute), and Federal University of Minas Gerais professor Leda Maria Martins.

Nascimento being honored by President Lula da Silva
Nascimento being honored by President Lula da Silva

The program includes the presence of activists from other countries. Among them, the sociologist and political scientist, now at Brown University in the United States, Anani Dzidzienyo, as well as the former French soccer player Lilian Thuram, who released the book As Minhas Estrelas Negras – De Lucy a Barack Obama (My Black Stars – From Lucy to Barack Obama), translated into Portuguese last year.

Following the discussions, the Centro Cultural Ação da Cidadania (Citizen Action Cultural Center), a procession will leave towards the Cais do Valongo, where an interfaith ceremony will be held. Accompanying the procession will be a drum orchestra of the group Treme Terra Esculturas Sonoras. The night comes to an end after presentations of rapper Re.Fem and samba musician Nei Lopes.

Documentary "Abdias Nascimento: Memória Negra"
Documentary “Abdias Nascimento: Memória Negra”

Born in the interior of São Paulo state, Abdias dedicated his life to the fight against racism and racial discrimination. He was one of the forerunners of the defense of the inclusion of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in schools and affirmative action for blacks. He founded a newspaper denouncing the situation of blacks in Brazil entitled Quilombo and created the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater) group. He died at age 97 in 2011.

Below is a brief chronicle of Nascimento’s life and only a few of his accomplishments. 

Abdias do Nascimento would be 100 years old

Born on March 14, 1914, Abdias was an active militant of the black cause


Abdias do Nascimento is one of the most renowned scholars and black activists in Brazil, and has also achieved international recognition because of his partition in the main events of the black Brazilian movement of the twentieth century.

Abdias meets Nelson Mandela on his visit to Brazil in 1991
Abdias meets Nelson Mandela on his visit to Brazil in 1991

Born in Franca, São Paulo, Abdias, already in the 1930s, joined the Frente Negra Brasileira (Brazilian Black Front) and fought together with other activists against segregation in commercial establishments in the city.

Abdias is also credited for the organization of the Congresso Afro-Campineiro (Afro-Campineiro Congress) in 1938. But his most recognized work was the founding in 1944 of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN or Black Experimental Theater) (1), an organization that sponsored the Convenção Nacional do Negro (National Convention of the Negro) in 1945-46. The movement ended up editing the Quilombo newspaper in which thought and proposal of the experimental theater was expressed.

Onstage: Abdias in a theatrical scene with actress Ruth de Souza, left, and with actress Léa Garcia, right, who was also his first wife
Onstage: Abdias in a theatrical scene with actress Ruth de Souza, left, and with actress Léa Garcia, right, who was also his first wife

This convention was preparatory for the 1st Congresso do Negro Brasileiro (Congress of Brazilian Blacks), held in 1950, which also featured the great collaboration of the sociologist Guerreiro Ramos and ethnologist/writer Édison Carneiro.

Abdias also took a passage through the National Congress after being a member of the former PTB and PTD (political parties). In the latter Abdias participated directly in its foundation, and during his forced exile by the 1964 military coup, the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Democratic Labor Party) was formed.

Nascimento's ID during his years as a professor at the University at Buffalo - The State University of New in the 1970s
Nascimento’s ID during his years as a professor at the University at Buffalo – The State University of New in the 1970s

Still in the PDT, Abdias created in early 1980 the Secretaria do Movimento Negro do PDT (Secretariat of the Black Movement of PDT), and shortly before, the militant also had great influence in founding the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement or MNU) in 1978.

Even before the limitations of Congress, Abdias presented a series of legislative proposals aimed at creating mechanisms for compensatory action for blacks, which, like so many others remained inconclusive thus far, as is typical of Congress. He was also a Senator of the PDT (1991-1999).

Book of Nascimento paintings and poetry
Book of Nascimento paintings and poetry

Nascimento participated in the Leonel Brizola administration in the government of Rio de Janeiro when he was appointed as Secretário de Defesa e Promoção das Populações Afro-Brasileiras do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Secretary of Defense and Promotion of Afro-Brazilian populations of the State of Rio de Janeiro) (1991-94).

Then followed a series of activities of Abdias, and as an intellectual and activist he was invited to events that discussed black people as well as the founding of institutes, centers and committees for the rights of black Brazilians and participation in racial departments. He died on May 24, 2011 and his ashes scattered in the location of Quilombo dos Palmares.

"Quilombo" newspaper (1948-1950) edited by Nascimento
“Quilombo” newspaper (1948-1950) edited by Nascimento

Of his best known writings we can highlight: Quilombo, a facsimile edition of the newspaper edited by Abdias himself; Quilombismo; O Brasil na Mira do Pan-Africanismo (Brazil in the Scope of Pan-Africanism), A Luta Afro-Brasileira no Senado (The Afro-Brazilian Struggle in the Senate); Africans in Brazil: A Pan-African Perspective ; Brazil: Mixture or Massacre; Povo Negro: A Sucessão e a “Nova República” (Black People: the Succession and the ‘New Republic’), O Genocídio do Negro Brasileiro (The Genocide of the Black Brazilian); and Sortilégio: mistério negro (black mystery), among others.

"Africans in Brazil" and "Brazil: Mixture or Massacre". Nascimento books available in English
“Africans in Brazil” and “Brazil: Mixture or Massacre”. Nascimento books available in English

Abdias do Nascimento lived a good part of the great important events for the black population, and his work and activism are of great importance to the understanding of current events, both of racism prevailing in bourgeois society, as well as the inability of the regime to solve the problems of black people.

Abdias Nascimento: Living Memory – Part 1

Abdias Nascimento: Living Memory – part 2

Source: PCO, Agência Brasil, Walter, Ronald. Pan Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements. Wayne State University Press, 1997.


1.  Please see note #6 of this post for a little about TEN.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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