Note from BBT: It’s been a while since I’ve discussed the history of black social clubs in Brazil (see here, here and here), but it’s a fascinating topic. I’ve always maintained that it’s necessary to look deeper into how race worked and continues to work in Brazil. You cannot simply look into Brazil’s history and assume that a lack of signs denoting clear racial segregation separating areas into black, white and colored, means that an apartheid system wasn’t still at play.
No matter what area of society you look at, when you dig a little deeper than the surface, you find all sorts of racial segregation at play that was a bit more sophisticated than American Jim Crow or South African apartheid. In past posts, I’ve referred to the system northern states of the United States. You didn’t see the same signals of segregation as you saw in the American south, but the system was just a successful as separating black and white people.
In Brazil, we’ve seen black exclusive in too many areas to name. In Bahia, for example, one Brazil’s blackest states, Afro-Brazilians were initially barred from participating in Carnaval. Even in the 21st century, we’ve seen reports of an invisible apartheid system operating during Carnaval season.
Only due to affirmative action policies have seen more black Brazilians attending colleges and universities in recent years, advertising still prefers whiteness as does the fashion industry. Even futebol, or soccer, perhaps the nation’s most celebrated past time, has roots in black exclusion. Today, even with a number of black futebol stars, you will find it difficult to find black head coaches of the top soccer leagues.
Yet another area where we see black Brazilians being openly excluded from attending. This exclusion which would lead black Brazilians organizing their own social clubs across the country. These clubs played important roles in the black communities in which they were located. The piece below explains this in more detail.
Spaces of Freedom and Autonomy – the black clubs in Minas Gerais
By Jonatas Roque Ribeiro
Black clubs, also called black associations, are cultural, recreational and political spaces formed by black people and for black people, aimed at addressing and defending their interests and issues. These spaces have been present in Brazilian society since the nineteenth century, spread throughout all regions of the country. In Minas Gerais, black clubs spread throughout several regions of its territory. To have an idea of this diffusion, between 1870 and 1960, at least 60 black associations were created.
Although it is difficult to include black clubs within a specific time, most black associations in Minas Gerais were founded in the twentieth century, after the abolition of slavery in Brazil on May 13, 1888. This period was known as post-abolition period, marked by the strengthening of racial discrimination and racism – called at the time “color prejudice” or “race hatred” – which conditioned and limited the possibilities of the black population in building decent livelihoods, with respect and equality. In other words, post-abolition racism denied blacks access to the exercise of full citizenship.
Many black clubs were created within this context and had the objective of establishing a form of political organization aimed at building projects for society and nation based on racial equality, full citizenship, and combat of “color prejudice. This was the case, for example, of the Clube Mundo Velho, meaning, Old World Club, a black association created in the city of Sabará in 1894 and still operating today. Besides offering dances and promoting carnival parties, this club also made available to its members beneficent services or mutual aid, which, generally, were cash grants for members who were in financial need, in cases of illness, work accidents, disability, old age, prison, and death.
Mutual aid, also called mutualism, was very important at the beginning of the 20th century, when there was not yet a set of protection laws or forms of public welfare or relief for workers. In this way, the charity and mutualism present in the objectives of the black associations demonstrate the importance of the defense of the black worker in a context of limited existence of public policies of social protection. In other words, the objective of the black clubs was to protect their members from the risks that compromised their living conditions.
The defense of the material living conditions of black people was so important that it was also present in the objectives of many other black clubs created in Minas Gerais, as was the case of the Clube 28 de Setembro (1904) in the city of Pouso Alegre; of the Clube Cutubas (1925) in the city of Leopoldina; the Associação Santarritense José do Patrocínio (1932) of the city of Santa Rita do Sapucaí; the Legião Negra de Uberlândia (1935); the Associação Cultural, Beneficente e Recreativa José do Patrocínio (1952) of the city of Belo Horizonte, among many others.
Besides the practice of mutual aid, these black clubs also offered a varied set of cultural activities, such as dances and parties, especially Carnival; literary soirees; beauty contests; sports events; schools and literacy classes; picnics, and political manifestations.
About the political manifestations of the black clubs, perhaps the main one was the commemorations that celebrated May 13 and September 28, dates of the publication of two important laws in the history of Brazil. On May 13, 1888 the legal abolition of slavery in Brazil was decreed. September 28th referred to Law no. 2040, enacted on September 28th, 1871, popularly known as the “Free Womb Law” which, among other things, started the process of abolition in Brazil, stipulating that as of that date the children of enslaved women would be born free.
These laws had a profound impact on the lives of many black men and women and changed the course of Brazilian history, so the black clubs commemorated these dates as the great celebration of the freedom of the Brazilian people. Such commemorations were mobilized and instrumentalized by the members of the black clubs with the intention of remembering the struggle for freedom and the end of slavery, but also as moments to denounce and revive old demands.
Another important political manifestation of the black clubs was the publication of “black newspapers”, also called “black press”. According to historian Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto, the black press was formed by newspapers produced by black people and for black people, which published issues of interest to those individuals and groups. Many black clubs created their own newspapers that generally publicized their activities and the social life of their members, but not only that. Several other subjects were covered in these periodicals, such as access to education, the right to vote, the job market, discrimination and color prejudice against blacks, among others.
Of the six black newspapers that circulated in Minas Gerais during the twentieth century, five were linked to black clubs. The newspaper A Verdade, created in 1904 by the 28 de Setembro Club of Pouso Alegre inaugurated the black press in the state. In the early 1920s, the same club also launched O 28 de Setembro, but both were short-lived, with only a few issues. In 1935, the Legião Negra of Uberlândia launched the newspaper A Raça. After a long interval, at the end of the 1970s, the Elite Clube of Uberaba created the newspaper O Objetivo, which circulated between 1977 and 1979. Still in the 1970s, members of the Unified Black Movement of Belo Horizonte launched the bulletin Força Negra, which circulated in a few issues in 1980. Between 1986 and 1987, the Afro-Brazilian Studies Group Aticorene, of the city of Juiz de Fora, published Aticorene: Boletim GEABA, a newspaper that disseminated its activities. At the same time, between 1987 and 1991, the Chico Rei Clube, from Poços de Caldas, published the Chico Rei newspaper.
Black men and women reflected and expressed themselves about the world in which they were inserted through their newspapers and their clubs. It is no wonder that black clubs were conceived as an extension of the family and a solidarity network fundamental to the survival of many black people. In other words, the black clubs were a form of political organization that had as its objectives the construction of projects for society and nation based on racial equality, full citizenship, and the combat of racism.
The black clubs were built so that their members could hold their parties, develop their mutual aid practices, practice sports, study, promote picnics and beauty contests, in short, confront oppression and racism and discuss their fears, anxieties, and dreams with freedom and autonomy. Therefore, we can say that the black clubs created racially oriented collective projects, that is, all the activities of the clubs had as their essential concern the defense of the black people, the denunciation and combat against racism, the fight for racial equality and for a society that respected their citizenship.