Maria Beatriz Nascimento (1942-1995): Intellectual militant of the Movimento Negro, poet and historian of quilombos, Brazil’s runaway slave societies

Afro Brazilian women
Maria Beatriz Nascimento (1942 – 1995)

“Being black is facing a history of almost five hundred years of resistance to pain, physical and moral suffering, the feeling of not existing, the practice of still not belonging to a society in which he consecrated everything that he possessed, offering still today the rest of himself/herself. Being black cannot be reduced to a “state of spirit”, “white or black soul,”* the aspects of behavior that certain whites choose as being black and so adopt them as their own.” – Beatriz Nascimento, 1974

Intellectual, activist and researcher, Beatriz Nascimento was born in Aracaju, on July 12, 1942, the daughter of housewife Rubina Pereira do Nascimento and bricklayer Francisco Xavier do Nascimento. She and her ten brothers and sisters migrated with her family to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. At the age of 28, she began studying for her undergraduate degree in history at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), graduating in 1971. In the process of studying for her degree she did a stint at the National Archives with historian José Honório Rodrigues.

Having graduated, she would work as a History teacher of state schools of Rio de Janeiro, linking teaching and research. Around the same time, she would exercise her intellectual militancy through objects and themes related to black history and culture. She led the creation of the Grupo de Trabalho André Rebouças (André Rebouças Working Group) (1) in 1974 at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Rio, sharing with black university students of Rio and São Paulo a discussion of the race issue in academia and education in general. An example of this intellectual militancy was her participation as a speaker at the Quinzena do Negro (Black Fortnight), held at the University of São Paulo in 1977, an event that was configured as a major meeting of black researchers.

Beatriz Nascimento

She completed a post-graduation courses in History at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in 1981 with the research project Sistemas alternativos organizados pelos negros: dos quilombos às favelas (Alternative systems organized by blacks: from the quilombo to the favelas (slum)), but her best known work and was the widely-circulation movie Ori (1989, 131 minutes), which she authored, directed by sociologist and filmmaker Rachel Gerber. The film, narrated by the Beatrice, presents her personal history as a way of addressing the black community in its relation to time, space and ancestry, emblematically represented in the idea of ​​the quilombo**. The documentary also presents key figures, meetings and speeches of the Movimento Negro between the years 1977-1988.

Documentary Ori, written and narrated by Nascimento 

Beatriz Nascimento, over a period twenty years, became a scholar of issues related to racism and was one of Brazil’s greatest specialists in the history of quilombos, addressing the correlation between black corporeality and space with diasporic experiences of Africans and their descendants in Brazilian territory, through the notions of “transmigration” and “transatlanticidade (Trans-Atlanticity)”. Her articles have been published in journals such Revista de Cultura Vozes, Estudos Afro-Asiáticos e Revista do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional, plus numerous articles and interviews in widely circulated newspapers and national magazines, such as the supplemental Folhetim of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Isto é magazine, the jornal Maioria Falante, Última Hora e Manchete magazine.


According to biographer Alex Rattz, Beatriz, along with other researchers such as Eduardo Oliveira (2), Lélia Gonzalez and Hamilton Cardoso (3), who worked for the ethnic-racial thematic would earn social visibility in the university and strengthen the political discourse of Brazil’s Movimento Negro (black movement). Besides the intellectual militancy, Beatriz was a poet. Her poetry brings into play the experience of being a black woman. This sensitivity was reflected throughout her writing.


She was working on a Masters degree in media at UFRJ under the guidance of Muniz Sodré (4), when her trajectory was interrupted. On January 28, 1995, Beatriz Nascimento was killed by five gun shots in the Botafogo (south zone) region of Rio de Janeiro, after Nascimento had advised her friend to leave a very violent boyfriend. 


While Ivanir dos Santos, a well-known militant of the Movimento Negro, believed the murder was racially motivated because the boyfriend didn’t accept the interference of a black person in the relationship. Beatriz’s sister Isabel, on the other hand, didn’t believe the problem was racism but rather the country’s history of impunity. According to statistics of the dos Santos’ organization CEAP (Centro de Articulação de Populações Marginalizadas or Center of Articulation of Marginalized Populations), Nascimento’s murder was the fifth assassination of a Movimento Negro militant in less than one year. Beatriz was divorced and left behind one daughter, Betânia, who was working in ballet in New York at the time of her death.


Book: Eu sou Atlântica: sobre a trajetória de vida de Beatriz Nascimento by Alex Ratts

* – In this phrase, Nascimento refers to the popular term, “negro de alma branca” or the “negro of a white soul”, which refers to the black individual that whites consider to possess attributes that society associates with white people such as intelligence, education, middle class status and sometimes a distancing from the black community. In some ways, it is similar to the term “oreo cookie” used in black American communities.

** – A quilombo from the Kimbundu word kilombo) is a Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin including the Quilombolas, or Maroons. Most of the inhabitants of quilombos(called quilombolas) were escaped slaves and, in some cases, later these escaped African slaves would help provide shelter and homes to other minorities of marginalized Portuguese, Brazilian aboriginals, Jews and Arabs, and/or other non-black, non-slave Brazilians who experienced oppression during colonization. However, the documentation on runaway slave communities typically uses the term mocambo to describe the settlements. “Mocambo” is an Ambundu word that means “hideout”, and is typically much smaller than a quilomboQuilombo was not used until the 1670s and then primarily in more southerly parts of Brazil.

A similar settlement exists in other Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, and is called a palenque. Its inhabitants are palenqueros who speak various Spanish-African-based creole languages. Quilombos are identified as one of three basic forms of active resistance by slaves. The other two are attempts to seize power and armed insurrections for amelioration. Typically, quilombos are a “pre-19th century phenomenon”. The prevalence of the last two increased in the first half of 19th century Brazil, which was undergoing both political transition and increased slave trade at the time. Source: Wiki

1. André Pinto Rebouças (13 January 1838 – 9 April 1898) was a Brazilian military engineer, abolitionist and inventor, son of Antônio Pereira Rebouças (1798–1880) and Carolina Pinto Rebouças. Lawyer, member of Parliament (representing the Brazilian state of Bahia) and an adviser to Pedro II of Brazil, his father was the son of a manumitted slave and a Portuguese tailor. His brothers Antônio Pereira Rebouças Filho and José Rebouças were also engineers. Rebouças became famous in Rio de Janeiro, at the time capital of the Empire of Brazil, solving the trouble of water supply, bringing it from fountain-heads outside the town. Serving as a military engineer during the Paraguayan War in Paraguay, Rebouças developed a torpedo,which was used successfully.  Alongside Machado de Assis and Olavo Bilac, Rebouças was a very important middle class representative with African descent, he also was one of the most important voices for the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Source: Wiki
2. Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira (1924-1980) was a brilliant sociologist and militant of the Movimento Negro who organized various events that brought together older and younger black activists. These events presented a different Brazilian reality than the image presented by the Military Dictatorship in power at the time. In his discourse, Oliveira brought together aspects of militancy and academia. In his most important piece, 1974’s “O mulato: um obstáculo epistemológico”, Oliveira challenged the “mulatto escape hatch” theory developed by American historian Carl Degler and instead described the situation of Brazil’s “mulattos” as both an “escape hatch” and a “trap door” that denied the mulatto a sense of identity. Oliveira knew that mulattos also experienced racism and believed that non-white Brazilians, blacks and mulattos, should be defined as blacks in a bipolar racial scheme similar to that of the United States. Along with Thereza Santos, Oliveira wrote and staged one of the first plays for a group formed exclusively by Brazilian blacks. In 1973, during the military dictatorship, de Oliveira and Santos premiered E, agora, falamos nós (And now we speak) at the Teatro Masp (Museu de Arte de São Paulo – São Paulo Museum of Art). De Oliveira is briefly featured in the Ori documentary.

3. Hamilton Cardoso (1953-1999). In 1978, Cardoso was one of the principal articulators of the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement), leading politicians, students, workers and intellectuals to get engaged in the struggle against racism in Brazil. Cardoso was jornalist featured on several television channels and represented Brazil in various meetings of organizations and political parties of Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and the US. He was a founding member of the MNU in 1978 and in 1981 created the magazine Ébano. Source: Portal Geledés 

4. Muniz Sodré is a journalist, sociologist, translator and professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) in the school of Communication. He is a researcher in the field of Communication and Journalism. Source: Wiki

Source: A Cor da Cultura, Folha de S.PauloRecanto das Letras

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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