The black man who became the first case of racism in the courts in Brazil – In 1950s Rio, Fernando Dias was expelled from an elite school where white parents didn’t like seeing their children playing with a black boy

Fernando Dias at the Jockey Club in Rio (Photo: MAURO PIMENTEL)

Note from BW of Brazil: When one keeps digging into Brazil’s past, little gems of its blatantly racist past (and which continues today) always seem to come to the forefront. Without even really focusing on the distant past so much, we know that there were places in the country where movie theaters were racially segregated, where blacks were either barred or treated badly at white social clubs (here and here), cities where all-black or all-white futebol teams and clubs were socially accepted, and elite Carnaval groups that barred blacks. For people interested in this history, there are numerous books on this topic that in some ways continues to be Brazil’s dirty little secret. Considering this and today’s story, there are surely thousands of other stories from the past that have yet to be told. For as we know, racism in Brazilian schools continues to scar black children today, so we can only imagine what it must have been like 50 years ago. So, do you still believe Brazil is a ‘racial democracy‘?

The black man who became the first case of racism in the courts in Brazil

In 1955, Fernando was expelled from an elite school where he was placed by his mother’s boss

By Maria Martin

This is not the first time that Fernando Dias, 63, has appeared in a newspaper. In 1955, just over three years old, he made the pages of Rio papers for months. His story was labeled “o caso do menino preto” (the case of the black boy) and was, according to chroniclers, the first time that the Brazilian judiciary faced a case of racism. “Fernandinho”, a great-grandson of slaves and the son of a maid and a butler of Petrópolis, was enrolled in the then newest elite school in Copacabana, The Happy School. With Canadian doctrine, the kindergarten quickly enrolled gleaming surnames such as Van Lammeren, Malcolm Morris, Von Bertrand…The majority of diplomats that, then, showed their discomfort at seeing their children playing with a black boy.

“against the school that denied to enroll the boy of color” – For months, Fernando’s case was followed by Rio newspapers

The only noble one that that boy had was the boss of his mother, Devanaguy Lakmy Silva, a refined military daughter, who sponsored him, paid for his studies, and became heir of all his possessions from the time he was born. “She was a humanist and progressive, but it was a controversial stance on a slavish and racist city,” he recalls today. The directors of The Happy School, which incidentally passed for Canadian but were Brazilians, expelled Fernandinho at the blink of an eye and the scandal exploded. “The Brazilian people are deeply hostile to racial prejudice” (1), “it became clear that the racist measure was inflated by people who inherited Hitler’s hatred for the inferior peoples”, read some reports at the time. Fernandinho won the case and the false Canadians were symbolically sentenced to a year in prison thanks to Afonso Arinos law, the first anti-racism law in Brazil.

And life went on. Sixty years later, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, Fernando Dias hangs around on the railings of the Jockey Club Rio trying to multiply the approximately 700 reais that he holds today. “I’ve live like this for 15 years ago, it’s like a stock exchange to me. Each horse is a stock, and I know the jockey and his coach,” he explains. Fernando, who makes references to Sartre and Victor Hugo in the interview with absurd ease, states that he created his own method to win, although the rest of turfistas, as bettors are known in horse racing, state that there is no magic formula, that everybody loses. “I started to see the mathematical relationships of the game, to study the statistics. In addition to the favorite, that pays little, I play the minimum on the horses that more pay. It’s a medium term and there will be four days in the year that my method will give me 4,000 reais. The question is if I’ll be in the game these days, right?” he says with a laugh. Even losing, he, always with a cigarette in his hand and sitting with one arm over the other and legs crossed, considers racing an investment for the next day.

3 - o unico negro
The only black in the photo, Pedro Dias, Fernando’s father, worked his whole life as a butler of the economist and former minister Eugenio Gudin (sitting on the couch)/EUGÊNIO GUDIN: INVENTÁRIO DE FLORES E ESPINHOS’

Fernando, motivated and funded by his godmother, studied electrical engineering and pedagogy at PUC (Catholic University) but never finished. He says he gave up condoning the system. “In 1986 I decided that the Academy didn’t have to do with me because it always caused me apprehension the fact of selling knowledge. I can’t commodify the work and I was driven to the bourgeois relationship that you have with the liberal professional.” Fernando, an anarchist from head to toe, appeals to existentialism and freedom preached by Sartre to justify why he decided to close the doors that the bourgeoisie opened to him.

He, after all, was the only of his family who had the opportunity to not sit on the sidelines. His father Pedro, for example, was the butler of Eugênio Gudin, considered the father of Brazilian liberalism who was the Minister of Finance from 1954 to 1955. His loyalty was even recognized in the biography Eugênio Gudin: inventário de flores e espinhos by historian Marcio Scalercio and journalist Rodrigo de Almeida, but he never stopped being a servant. “He could barely read or write, very few blacks were cultivated by employers after the abolition of slavery, which didn’t impede emotional ties, of course. But like every black, my father remained out.”

Fernando left school, but never left the books nor left PUC. Today he is a myth to many of the students, with whom he plays futebol, teaches and even lives in a kind of dorm room. “I broke with the Academy, but PUC continues being my club”. His story, “an undercover in Rio high society,” does not cease to fascinate students who have recorded videos showing pieces of the unsurpassed biography of Ferdinand the Isi, a nickname he earned because, long ago, he looked like former Seleção (National Futebol Team) player Paulo Isidoro. But he no longer looks like that, no. The life that Fernando chose, which included years living in the open air, aged him. Today, his noble neighbors of Copacabana, who remember him as a polite, educated young man, with hair in the black style (afro) and who filled elevators with French cologne, are surprised to see him in a picture with the broken smile, long dreads and skinny as a teenager.

The walk in the opposite direction to the international travel, the champagne and caviar started from the 80s, when he was in college, and his godmother and her mother had already died. Fernando began running out of money, “I’m no good at saving.” In those days, his two brothers, involved in drug trafficking, began frequenting the Copacabana apartment where he grew up. There were even police raids in the building and a neighbor remembers how, desperate, the brothers ended up throwing a revolver in a garbage hole of the fourth floor. Fernando, who swears he had no involvement with trafficking, had been arrested in these episodes to be later released.

The money effectively ended and Fernando, swamped in debt, eventually sold (everything) from the knobs until the last of the Pas de Calais tiles of the three-bedroom apartment, and dismantled one by one the other properties registered in his name. This was how his life disconnected from any material item, “outside of four walls with things inside.” 700 reais with those with whom he live today are the part that corresponds to him for the rent of the last of the property he had left and that he divides with the children of his brothers, who ended up executed in trafficking careers. Fernando, who still frequents the street where he grew up and the lottery house where he began to bet, doesn’t appear to miss any of that small empire that was once his. “The man only needs music and food,” he says. “The rest is superfluous.”

SourceEL PAÍS Brasil


  1. A long-lasting myth similar to Roger Bastide and Florestan Fernandes’s research findings that they tagged with the phrase “we Brazilians have ‘the prejudice of not having prejudice’”, which sums up the country’s decades long method of practicing subtle and blatant racism while simultaneously denying its existence.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Given the laws and constitution of that time isn’t this man entitled to a SUBSTANTIAL indenization? This always boils to what the law at that time was. One has a very dificult case against slave masters when the law allowed slavery. But it’s different when the law said Ithat N PRINCIPLE all mesn should ne equal. I think he has a case against thre state.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.