Monday, November 23, 2009

Gone With the Wind: Confederates in Brazil

Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know…
Stephen Foster

One day, a couple of years ago, I was in an office in São Paulo chatting to a friend in English. A lady I didn’t know came up to us and joined in the conversation. She spoke with the dulcet tones of the American South, and I asked her where she was from.
“I was born here,” she said, meaning Brazil.
“Okay. Your parents, then?”
“Here. And my grandparents too.”
And then she told me the story of the Brazilian Confederates, which, Dear Reader, I’m now going to pass on to you:

After the War Between the States many families from the old south were left landless and destitute. They hated living under a conquering army of Yankees. They were looking for a way out.
Dom Pedro II, the progressive Brazilian emperor of the time, offered it. He was interested in developing the cultivation of cotton, and he gave tremendous incentives to people who knew how to do it. Land could be financed at twenty-two cents an acre. Passage cost no more than thirty Yankee dollars.
Scads of people from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Texas took him up on his offer.
Many of them settled in the State of São Paulo in the towns of Americana and Santa Barbara D’Oeste. The name of the former is derived from the Portuguese for “Village of the Americans” and the latter is sometimes called the Norris colony, after Colonel William Norris, a former senator from Alabama and one of the founders. (He's the gentleman in the old photo above.)
If you’re a Civil War buff, and would like to experience a vestige of the Old South, I suggest you go to Santa Barbara on the second Sunday in April. That’s when they hold a yearly party on the grounds of the cemetery. Yeah, that’s right, the cemetery, the one where all of those old confederates are buried. You can eat southern fried chicken, vinegar pie, chess pie and biscuits. Banjos are played. Confederate songs are sung. The women dress in pink and blue and wear matching ribbons in their hair. Near the Presbyterian Church, the first non-Catholic church ever built in Brazil, there’s square dancing for the young folks.
The men of all ages get drunk and replay the war, looking at first as if they’re celebrating a victory. But at the end of the performance the bearded actor, playing Gen. Robert E. Lee, falls down as if mortally wounded, a Confederate flag wrapped around him.
And you might well get to meet someone like Becky Jones, a member of the Association of Confederates, a group that’s three-hundred members strong. Becky learned her English from her parents. They learned it from their parents. And so on. Prompted, she’ll tell you that (even) Damnyankees are welcome to the party, but they have to expect to be received differently than someone from the South. She might tell you, too, about her grandmother, Mrs. MacKnight-Jones, who survived well into her nineties. Grandma learned from her parents never to call Abraham Lincoln by his name. In their household he was only referred to as "that man." And that family tradition goes on until this very day.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Since "Yankees" are received "differently," 154 years after the end of the war, would it be impolite to ask their views on slavery?

  2. Wow. I never knew about this and I've lived in the South my whole life! Interesting.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Hi Dana,

    Another thing that Dom Pedro II offered the confederates was the chance to continue to raise cotton the way they always had - with slave labor. And there was a lot of it already being used in the cane and coffee fields.
    Brazil imported, in its history, more than six times the number of slaves imported into North America. When emancipation finally came, in 1889, most of the original settlers were still alive. Rather than employ freedmen, many of the ex-confederates imported cheap, paid labor from Japan and banned black people from their estates. That much is historical fact.
    These days, Brazil is, by and large, a fully integrated society where most people are colorblind. Pelé continues to be a great national hero, so are a number of black musicians like Gilberto Gil, and one recent mayor of São Paulo was also black.
    But,in Americana, my guess would be that there are still households that harbor racist sentiments.
    How could it be otherwise in a place where they continue to refer to The Great Emancipator as "that man".

  4. What wonderful information!. I was a history teacher and this is a story that would capture the attention of high school students.

    I think that there are still sections of the South where news that the war ended in 1865 has still not yet been delivered. In some places the Civil War is referred to as the War of Northern Aggression.

    As to racism, I am afraid that there is no doubt that it still exists. The constant attacks aimed at President Obama, even things that have nothing to do with his presidency, are racist. The Congressman who called him a liar while he was speaking in the House chamber received donations of over a million dollars for an action that broke the House's rules about verbal attacks. On the House floor, representatives don't refer to each other by name but use the convention of "my honorable colleague from the state of...." no matter how much they hate each other.

    My uncle lived in New Orleans for over 40 years. Racism was a fact of life; how much did it have to do with what happened to that city after Katrina?

    A few years ago, I came across the story of the Japanese population in Brazil. That is another fascinating story.

  5. Hi Beth,

    Yes, the Japanese immigration is a fascinating story. Did you know that São Paulo now has the largest community of ethnic Japanese outside of the home islands?

    After Brazil entered WWII on the side of the allies, many perfectly innocent Nisei were subject to the same suspicion which arose in the US after Pearl Harbor.

    Internment camps were established. My wife tells the story of her mother, who lay down in front of a military truck that was trying to take a number of Japanese/Brazilians off to such a camp. In the end, the soldiers left without taking anyone. Granny remains proud of that. As well she should be.

  6. @ Beth,
    I've lived in the South, and known people who refer to the Civil War as TWOYA. Several years ago I saw the perfect riposte on a bumper sticker:

    You lost. Get over it.

    @ Leighton,
    Congratulations to Granny. Should should, indeed, be proud of that. We too often forget how few people willing to stand up can make a difference, if they're willing to take a chance. She remembered.

  7. Leighton on my first trip to the USA in 1979 we went on a trip to Alexandria VA and our guide kept referring to "during the Federal occupation". I had to whisper to my puzzled fellow tourists explaining that she was talking about the Civil War.

    Not many people know that Brazil was in WWII and her troops fought in Italy, with the multinational Allied armies.
    When it comes to bumper stickers and the presence of unreconstructed Southerners I saw a sticker in the Poconos, mile from the South, which said "Don't blame me I voted for Jefferson Davis". That was in 1994 so the driver must have been quite old. ;o)

  8. Hi Leighton-

    It's amazing what's going on in places you never would have expected.

    I think it's wild that there's an area in Brazil where it's like our Southern states here.

    I know I'm surprised when I find Jews living outside of New York, Chicago or Israel.

    I forget how they fled from one country to another.

    I wonder if there are any Jews that have settled in Iceland.

    I should ask Yrsa.


  9. Leighton - Anyone who willingly takes a stand, risking their lives or freedom, are true heroes. I am annoyed at the manner in which that word has been robbed of its meaning and significance in American culture. Athletes are not heroes when they make a play that wins a game. People who risk their lives to pull someone from a burning car are heroes. Their actions have an impact on society as a whole (Donne's "No man is an island...." carried out in the fullest sense). Athletes are doing a job and are, in many cases, sinfully overpaid for doing it. Great plays make good bargaining chips when contracts are being re-negotiated.

    I never heard about the internment of Japanese American citizens until I was in college. I hope it was because it was so shameful that no one wanted to be reminded of how far prejudice and fear had gone in undermining the Constitution.

    Since the murders of the soldiers at Fort Hood, we the people are going to have to be watchful that the many are not blamed for the actions of the few (or the one). I have Muslim students and they are the same as every other teenager in the building. Headscarfs don't define the teenage girl wearing it.

    Beth Crowley

  10. Excellent Story!! I am a native South Carolinian. A trip to Brazil seems to be very much in order this April.
    As for the slavery: So what?
    Slavery has been a part of humankind since the beginning. I think that the focus should be placed more on the way in which the United States came to a self awakening in dealing with the issue of slavery.
    I don't care what anybody says; in a country where the descendent of slaves can become the most powerful man in the world in less than 200 years, is magnificent. This is a great country we live in!

  11. Barack Obama was not the descendant of slaves; his father was a Kenyan national and his mother was a European American woman originally from Kansas. Furthermore, the idea that slavery is a "so what" issue, even today when modern day slavery is a grotesque form of abuse that...wait a minute.

    There's no way that this "Stewart Sherman" can be so daft. He's a troll bot designed to evoke angry responses on the Internet for ad revenue or other nefarious purposes! I've been had, again.