The lawyer of the Slaves: Prohibited From Going to Law School
Note from BW of Brazil: I have always considered Luís Gama to be one of the most important black men in Brazil’s history. In my mind, he represents a kind of Brazilian Frederick Douglass. He was sold into slavery to pay off his white father’s gambling debts, considered Brazil’s first black journalist, a lawyer, even though he wasn’t officially recognized as one due to racism, founded three newspapers and was the first and only Brazilian slave to conquer his own freedom. Amazing accomplishments in an era in which black people from prohibited from learning to read and write.
The fact that his importance to Brazilian and black history isn’t known by all Brazilians is “the result of the way that education treats the history of the Brazilian people, especially black people,” says Afro-Brazilian judge Fábio Esteves, who works in the capital city of Brasília. Esteves spent five years in law school and had never heard of Gama during the entire period of his university education.
For University of São Paulo researcher, Cinthia Gomes, the fact that Brazil hasn’t recognized Gama’s accomplishments is what she has called “epistemological racism”. Gama falls into that category of prominent black Brazilian intellectuals whose lives and acts have been purposely erased from the history books. “Academia has no notion of the magnitude of Gama’s importance for the unfolding of the country’s history and for its contemporaries.” Gomes is also a member of the the Commission of Journalists for Racial Equality (COJIRA).
Below is a short write up about Gama. Even though little is known about his childhood, a 1930 letter was found written by Gama himself detailing the various hardships of his life and how much he was able to overcome over the course of his relatively short life. With everything we do know about Gama, one would think there would be a film produced about him. But he was black, and in Brazil, who knows if that would ever happen.
The lawyer of the slaves: Prohibited from going to law school because he was black, in the 19th century Luís Gama freed 500 slaves before abolition
He was a Brazilian lawyer, poet, journalist and combative abolitionist. Patron of chair number 15 of the Academia Paulista de Letras.
Luis Gonzaga Pinto da Gama was born on July 21, 1830 in the city of Salvador, Bahia. He was the son of Nabor da Gama Filho, from a rich Bahian family originally of Portuguese nobility and Luísa Maheu (or Luisa Mahin), a black African woman from the Nagô nation, born in Costa da Mina (Gold Coast), freed.
His father was addicted to gambling and his mother was a grocer known in the Salvador trade, engaged in slave insurrection plans. She was arrested several times in the Revolta dos Malês (1835) and accused of participating in Sabinada, in 1837 she was deported to Rio de Janeiro, and 1838, she was expelled from Brazil for her participations in various revolts against the slave regime. Luis Gama, at 10 years old was sold by his father and taken to Rio de Janeiro. There he was bought by the ensign Antonio Pereira Cardoso, who took him to his farm in the city of Lorena, state of São Paulo. Luis learned the tasks of washing, ironing, shining, was a domestic slave of the farm. In 1847, the ensign hosted the student Antonio Rodrigues do Prado Júnior, who made friends with Luís and taught him to read and write during his stay. This in itself was an accomplishment as, at that time, “pessoas de cor” (people of color) were prohibited from attending schools.
The following year, Gama fled to the city of São Paulo, because he knew of the illegal situation in which he found himself being the son of a free mother. He enlisted in the Army, pursued a career for six years, and retired in 1854. He returned to the force two years later. He married in 1850 and started attending, as a listener, the Law School at Largo São Francisco. Gama did not graduate, as he was only a listening student and, because he was black, he couldn’t be an official student.
Talented, Luís Gama, in the 1860s became a renowned journalist participating in the groups of the Liberal Party. He created the São Paulo humoristic press by founding (1864) the newspaper Diabo Coxo. Between 1864 and 1875, the satirical poet, camouflaged himself with the pseudonym of Afro, Getulino and Barrabás, publishing his texts in several newspapers. In 1869 he founded, with Rui Barbosa, the newspaper Radical Paulistano. His most important work was “Primeiras trovas burlescas de Getulino”, produced in 1859, which brought the satire “Quem sou eu”? (Who am I?), also known as Bodarrada.
He was part of the creation of the Club Radical and the Partido Republicano Paulista (1873), remaining affiliated until the end of his life. He led the Mocidade Abolicionista e Republicana (Abolitionist and Republican Youth) in 1880. Self-taught, Gama became a provisioned lawyer, working as a rábula* started his fight against slavery by freeing more than 500 slaves. A mason for the Loja Maçônica América (América Masonic Lodge), the abolitionist entity provided support, including financial support for his legal action for the liberation of slaves. And of his authorship the sentence:
“Before the law, the crime of the slave perpetrated in the person of the Lord is justified.” Luís Gama’s literary production represents the second generation of Romanticism in Brazil. His work published in 1859, “Primeiras trovas burlescas de Getulino” gathers his satirical poetry ridiculing the aristocracy and the powerful personalities of the time. The first edition sold out in three years.
Luis Gama was considered the “friend of all” and kept in his house a box full of coins that he gave to blacks in difficulties who came to look for him. He exerted a strong influence of his abolitionist ideals on important personalities such as Raul Pompéia, Alberto Torres, and Américo de Campos.
Luis Gama died on August 24, 1882, from complications of diabetes without having seen the fulfillment of his dream, abolition.
* Rábula or provisioned, in Brazil, was the lawyer who, without a law degree (bachelor’s degree), obtained the authorization from the competent organ of the Judiciary (during the imperial period), or from the class entity (first from the Institute of Lawyers; from the 1930s of the OAB), to exercise, in the first instance, the postulation in court.
Source: Jornal do Brasília, Personalidades Afro que Mudaram o Mundo (Discovery Publicações, 2013).