New book narrates civic celebrations of abolition of slavery in Brazil

Book by historian Renata Figueiredo Moraes presents experiences of struggles surrounding May 13 in Rio de Janeiro – the slaveholding heart of Brazil.
Social Sciences
22 May 2023
New book narrates civic celebrations of abolition of slavery in Brazil

May 13, 1888, the date when slavery was officially abolished in Brazil, has been the subject of significant controversies in recent decades. Highlighting the precarious and incomplete nature of the freedom achieved at that time, as well as the prominence given to Princess Isabel in the supposed granting of that freedom, significant segments of the black movement, starting from the late 20th century, sought to distance themselves from this commemoration. In this context, they defined a different date to celebrate black pride in the country: November 20, chosen in homage to the struggle of Zumbi of Palmares.

This subject is addressed in "As festas da abolição no Rio de Janeiro (1988-1908)" (“The celebrations of abolition in Rio de Janeiro, 1888-1908”), a book by historian Renata Figueiredo Moraes, published by FGV Press with support from FAPERJ. It acknowledges concerns and considerations that have fueled criticisms of traditional images of May 13.

Moraes revisits this debate, focusing on the meanings attributed to the date in its early years. Based on empirical research, the book points to the beginning of the process of asserting an unambiguous memory of abolition, which sought to erase the importance of black struggles in the preceding decades. On the other hand, it also looks at the particular way in which various groups in this period, including black workers themselves, sought to celebrate abolition by giving it specific meanings. Therefore, this is not a study of the abolitionist process itself, but rather an examination of how the date of abolition was contested by diverse social groups in a process that extended throughout the first two decades of the Republic.

The author’s research, based on consultations of records extending over the course of 100 years, found in the diaries of intellectuals, musicians, artists and other people, photographs, books and poetry, provides information about the mobilization that involved Brazil’s first major social movement. It reveals how the civic celebrations of abolition, both in the weeks surrounding May 13, 1888 and throughout the First Republic, became forums for the actions of various social agents, including former slaves, and their many political campaigns for rights, meanings and memories.

To mark the book launch, the author will be present at Blooks bookstore in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, on May 26, at 7 pm.

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