May 13th marked 131 years since the end of slavery; Congressman Benedita da Silva explains how it was the result of the struggle of the enslaved for freedom

Benedita - aboli

Note from BW of Brazil: May 13th is an important day in Brazil’s history. It was the day that the institution of slavery was officially abolished. Thus Brazil, the country that most exploited the labor of Africans and their descendants became the last country in the Western Hemisphere to end this brutal practice. Officially, the act became official with then signing of the Golden Law by Princess Isabel who is often revered as the wonderful, kind daughter of Emperor Pedro II. She thought so much of black people that she set them free is how the history books would have us remember her. But the fact is that the ending of slavery in Brazil was an inevitable fact and many other events were far more influential to its ending than the simple signature of the Princess, including the acts of resistance of the enslaved thsemselves.

Today, 131 years later, black Brazilians still refer to this event as an incomplete abolition due to the overall condition of a black population in a Brazil that continues to exploit, exclude, discriminate against and murder the descendants of those same Africans. For more than four decades, militants of the Movimento Negro have advocated celebrating November 20th as the Day of Black Consciousness in memory of the death of the country’s greatest black leader, Zumbi of Palmares, in 1695, rather than May 13th, as the struggle that started in the 16th century, in fact, continues to this day. Long-time Congresswoman Benedita da Silva of Rio breaks down the truth about May 13th, abolition and Princess Isabel in a piece especially penned because of an act in Congress by politicians to honor the “good deed” of the Princess.

The abolition was the result of the struggle of the enslaved people for freedom!

Benedita da Silva: “May 13th is how white power celebrates its ‘goodness’ to the black. November 20 is the black people expressing their awareness that only with struggle will they conquer true racial and social liberation”

By Benedita da Silva

On Monday (13), the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) completed 131 years of its promulgation and is officially celebrated as if slavery had been abolished only by this law and that this was the real intention of Princess Isabel.

But this is only one of the many conservative myths in Brazilian history. On May 13, 1888, about 90 percent of the slaves had already won their freedom by their own means-mass flight, freedom, and support from the abolitionist movement.

Historically, the black never ceased to resist and revolt against the suppression of his freedom. The greatest example was that of Quilombo de Palmares, led by Zumbi. But there were numerous uprisings and hundreds of quilombos were created throughout the country. In Bahia, the black Malês organized a revolt of great magnitude in 1835.

The date celebrated by black people is the 20th of November, the Day of Zumbi and Black Consciousness. This date reminds black men and black women of the struggles and achievements of the past and points to new challenges of the present and future. It also shows that Brazilian civilization was born mainly from the work of the slave, because it was black people who produced the main wealth of colonial and monarchic Brazil: sugar, gold, cotton and coffee. It also reminds us that our mestiço (mixed race) population originates in the rape of the black and indigenous slave by the master of the sugar mill.

When the English industry began to dominate the world and demand the enlargement of the markets for its products, it came to see in slave work an obstacle. Pressed by England, Brazil banned the slave trade in 1850. As a consequence, the abolitionist movement involving the free society of the time grew in the country. From the black journalists Luís Gama and José do Patrocínio and the poet Castro Alves to Joaquim Nabuco, a liberal elite senator, everyone began to defend the end of slavery.

The most advanced sectors of the abolitionist movement, including almost all the black leaders, supported along with the abolition the implantation of the republic and the accomplishment of agrarian reform. Others preached abolition with the indemnification of the owners of slaves or with the maintenance of the monarchy.

However, the pace of the development of labor relations in the coffee economy was faster than the slow process that led to abolition. Just before the Lei Áurea several states of the country had abolished slavery. São Paulo, where coffee production was concentrated, abolished it two months earlier.

From the economic point of view, the slave had become an expensive and obsolete worker, who had been quickly replaced by the wage labor of the European immigrant. In this environment of modernization of labor relations, slavery had no future and its end would lead to that of the monarchy that relied on it.

The Lei Áurea has much more relation to the maintenance of a monarchy that agonized than to the freedom of the slaves. Emperor D. Pedro II and his heiress, Princess Isabel, attempted to abolish the remnants of slavery with the economic elite of São Paulo to maintain the monarchy with free labor. But the Golden Law displeased everyone. To the former slaves because it did not give them land or jobs to guarantee their livelihood. To the slave owners, because they didn’t compensate them. To the Army because it had already broken with the monarchy and defended the Republic. And to the São Paulo farmers because they were already articulating a regime for themselves, the oligarchic republic, carried out by means of the victorious coup of the Army in November 1889.

The Lei Áurea represented an end to the long period of slavery and the beginning of a new historical phase that lasts until the present, in which black people are free from shackles, but bound to the condition of sub-citizenship, as sociologist Jessé de Souza describes. The explicit slavery of the past has been replaced by implicit slavery. And racism came to be used to justify this social exclusion, only softened in the 13 years of the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

May 13 is how poder branco (white power) celebrates its “goodness” to blacks. November 20th is black people expressing their awareness that only with struggle will they conquer true racial and social liberation.

Source: Revista Fórum

About Marques Travae 3146 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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