In the 19th century, Hemetério dos Santos became first black professor of the Institute of Education, fought for racial equality, education for blacks

Note from BBT: Another great thing that I noted about black Brazilian social movements are the demand for a recovery of lost history. I’m not claiming that this is new, as there have been black scholars who have contributed to this struggle for decades. Some of these people include people like historian Clóvis Moura, intellectual Beatriz Nascimento, anthropologist /professor Lélia Gonzalez, activist /playwright /politician Abdias Do Nascimento. There have been various black studies groups over the years and literary collectives such as Quilombhoje.

But in the last few decades, with more Afro-Brazilians gaining access to higher education, there is more representation in academia as well, which is leading to many more Afro-Brazilian academics discussing a black history that has long been ignored in Brazil’s education system. In terms of Brazil, the struggle is not only for recognition, but also against the denial that racial exclusion has even existed in the country, which in itself is enough to whitewash the history of the Afro-Brazilian struggle and those who contributed to it.

A good example is the topic of today’s post. A man who ascended professionally through education and then fought so that other black Brazilians could also have access to a quality education at a time when most were, for all intents and purposes, excluded from the education process. This gap in educational attainment between blacks and whites can still be noted today. Which is the main reason that the implementation of affirmative action policies has been so vital to opening the doors to education in the past few decades.

Hemetério José dos Santos

Get to know the story of Hemetério José dos Santos, the black professor who dared to fight racism and teach about black history and culture during the period when slavery was legal in Brazil

By Adriana de Paula and Joel Paviotti with additional info courtesy of Codó Notícias

The history of Brazil is marked by the trajectory of many professors that were fundamental in their task of teaching and advocating the importance of access to education.

Among so many names of great educators, we highlight the figure of Hemetério José dos Santos, a black professor who dared to teach the importance of fighting racism and the search for a racial democracy in the middle of the slavery period.

Hemetério was born in Codó, in Maranhão state, on March 3, 1858. The son of a slave woman and a local farmer and major, he was only recognized by his father at the age of five. There is not much information about his childhood, but it is a fact that he had access to formal education and attended good schools.

He moved to Rio de Janeiro when he was 16, where he finished his studies and became a French tutor at Colégio Pedro II. In 1890, he became an adjunct professor at this school and, in 1898, he was appointed lifelong professor of Portuguese, also receiving the rank of Major in the Army. At that time, he was the only black professor at the Military School in Rio de Janeiro and the racial issue became one of the fundamental elements in his work.

He married Rufina Vaz Carvalho dos Santos and worked as a teacher at the Escola Normal do Distrito Federal, becoming its first black professor. In later years, the school would become known as the Instituto de Educação. Throughout his life, he produced an important number of publications related to racial issues and the education of the poorest part of the population.

Hemetério José dos Santos knew that education for blacks was the path to equality

Santos was a grammarian and philologist and published letters, articles, conferences, grammar books, didactic books and poetry, and actively participated in the abolitionist movement and in the fight for black education as a form of social insertion. In 1920, he received the rank of honorary lieutenant-colonel in the Brazilian Army.

Besides his academic competence and the commitment with which he carried out his teaching duties, Hemetério stood out in his defense of an educational project that included blacks, preaching racial democracy and a public education that would form citizens capable of changing the reality in which they lived. For him, democracy depended on quality education and that the black population should be included in society through access to education.

Alongside other abolitionists, Hemetério became an important voice in the fight against slavery. He felt the weight of racism up close and made education his weapon to fight against the exclusion of the black people in Brazil. For him, social inequality could only be fought with education and with the political formation of the popular classes. In his analyses, he defended that scientific racism was an evil to be fought and that there was no sense in defending a thesis that preached the inferiority of blacks.

In the book, História do Instituto de Educação (1954), Professor Aderaldo Balthazar da Silveira, wrote that, at the time, Hemetério was a prominent figure, with relationships with people from the Brazilian elite and in the newspapers.

His texts talked about the importance of seeking equality between men and women, the inclusion of racial issues in textbooks, the importance of night courses and the construction of elementary school near factories, so that the children of the workers could study.

According to Silveira, the thinking of the teachers at Escola Normal was out of line with the elite of the time. They were people who brought the vision that education had to reach the poor population, so they idealized this Escola Normal Livre. The very idea of a normal course at night at the Escola Normal do Distrito Federal already had this purpose, so much that, Hemetério was a night school teacher, and those who came to study at night were not the young people of the elite.

Hemetério José dos Santos died in 1939, but he left an important legacy of struggle for education and racial equality, making teaching a task that goes far beyond the presentation of content laid out in the curriculum.

Despite his erudition, he had to deal with the professional and intellectual obstacles that his color brought him, but he embraced this challenge, assuming his blackness and taking to his newspaper articles, his books and poems a very critical and combative view of the racism and prejudice that prevailed in the first decades of the Republic. Hemetério raised as one of his main flags the recognition of the role of blacks in the formation of the nation and the intellectuality of the country, and he used his voice on every possible occasion to defend this vision.

Source: Ativismo Negro, Codó Notícias

About Marques Travae 3721 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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