“Martin Luther King must be a cool guy!” (Or the figure that opened me up to Black America) – A black Brazilian’s first memory of MLK



Note from BW of Brazil: I suppose it would be safe to assume that most of can remember our first exposure to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I am no exception. I remember very well the first time I was introduced to MLK although at the time I didn’t know it. As a young boy, my mother had taken me to play called Selma about the Civil Rights Movement. Being a child of maybe 5 or 6 at the time, I didn’t really didn’t understand what the play was all about and remember nagging my mother for most of the show to take me home. I would really only learn about MLK in my teens after watching the Eyes on the Prize documentary and from then on numerous other documentaries, books and article.

Over the years, my views on King have evolved as I, like King himself, have questioned as to whether black people should want to integrate so badly into societies that prove time and again that they don’t really want us. But this isn’t the time for that discussion. Regardless of one’s views on MLK, we cannot deny the fact that he continues to be a monumental figure in World History and that is exactly the reason I wanted to publish a text today, January 15th, MLK’s birthday, from a black Brazilian discussing his first introduction King. I have written before how, as King was from the US, his influence went far beyond the borders of the United States, and in a Brazil that has its own important black historical figures, MLK is a figure that most Afro-Brazilians know even when they don’t know their own heroes.

In the text below, Marco “DiPreto” of Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, shares with us his first memory of MLK.


By Marco Antonio “Dipreto” to Black Women of Brazil

Hello my African-American cousins.

In this first text of a series requested by BWofB, to mark January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I make it a point to stress that this column is not intended for journalistic or academic articles. This is a space for exchanging ideas and experiences on a personal level. I write this column as if I had spoken to dear relatives, with some (important) differences between us, but that by far lose out to the similarities.

Who knows, speaking of our differences, but focusing on what can bring us closer, will we know more about ourselves and carry out projects beyond the ludic, folkloric, exotic and musical experiences?

But let’s get down to business; What does Mr. King mean to me? To talk about this, I have to make some reflections and remember important moments of my life.

In this sense the first thing that comes to mind is that, between the 70’s and 90’s, for the boys from the outskirts of São Paulo, there were two models of being black; the first is to be into samba or futebol (soccer), to have a “more popular touch”, always cheerful and smiling. The other was to look like a black American, because US blacks can also be powerful (that’s what your movies and TV series show, my cousins!).

The first was as a boy, in the late 80’s, listening to the song of Wilson Simonal, a famous Brazilian singer of the 60’s and 70’s in Brazil, “Tributo a Martin Luther King” (Tribute to Martin Luther King). In Brazil, Saturday is a “world day” for heavy housecleaning in the homes of the poor, and to give motivation to do household chores, my father would put on the 45s (two music tracks) with this song on the turntable. It was one of the must-have songs of the weekend and I thought it was beautiful. Music stuff!

I asked my father, at the time a handyman with little formal education about what the song was about, and he explained to me that it was about . “Um negão muito corajoso que lutava pelos direitos dos negros na America. Um tal de King” (A very brave great black man who fought for the rights of blacks in America. One such King),” he said.

Even without much of the meaning at the time, I thought he song interesting for a man, since most of the songs dedicated to a person were for women. ” “O cara devia ser legal (The guy must be cool)!” I thought.

A cool guy? Martin Luther King? Holy ignorance of mine.

I didn’t know anything about this modern icon. But you see, it was a time in Brazil, outside of academic places, in which one did not discuss racism. The school books only presented us only as enslaved in the nineteenth century. In the XXth century, as folkloric, sexualized, violent, inferiorized and “domesticated” elements. How is it to hear about King’s strength and, consequently, the black American community? Outside of artists, with a rare exception, things about racism and inequality were usually omitted, our references were, and still are, soccer players, (who were) ignorant about these issues as well. Brazil is a country educated by the television, and television is white.

As a teenager, a basketball player, an African American teammate told me that in the 1960s in the US a black man had lead thousands of people to talk about freedom and that there was a day dedicated to him. Freedom? No samba or soccer?

Who is this guy, I asked. Amazed, he told me “With so many black people here, how come you don’t know Martin Luther King, the reverend winner of the Nobel Peace Prize?”

I hadn’t the slightest idea.


“Tribute to Martin Luther King” – Wilson Simonal

Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!

Yes, I’m a black man in color/My brother of my color

What I ask is yes, fight/Fight more!

That the fight is at the end …


Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

Every black there is/Another black man will come

To fight/With blood or not

With a song/Also fight brother

Hear my voice/Oh Yes!/Fight for us …

A fight too black/(A fight too black!)

It’s fighting for peace/(It’s fighting for peace!)

Too black fight/To be equal

Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!

To be equal

Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!

Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!

Yes, I’m a black man of color.

My brother of my color

What I ask is to fight, yes/Fight more!

That the fight is at the end …

Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!
Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá Lá!

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

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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