Author Archives: Francisco Brito

Os Primeiros Anos

Em Atlanta, uma criança negra não podia ir a nenhum parque. Eu não pude frequentar as chamadas escolas para Brancos. Em muitas lojas da baixa da cidade, eu não podia entrar num restaurante para comer um hambúrguer. ou tomar um café. Não podia entrar entrar em nenhuma sala de espectáculos. Havia um ou dois cinemas para Negros, mas não passavam os grandes filmes. Quando os passavam, era com dois ou três anos de atraso.

Naquele tempo, havia nos autocarros normas rígidas de segregação, que obrigavam os Negros a sentar-se nos lugares da parte de trás. Os Brancos sentavam-se nos da frente, e mesmo quando não havia brancos no autocarro esses lugares continuavam reservados exclusivamente a Brancos, pelo que os Negros tinham de viajar de pé junto de lugares vazios. Eu acabava por ter de levar o corpo para a parte de trás, mas sempre que entrava num daqueles autocarros deixava o espírito nos bancos da frente. E dizia para os meus botões: “Um dia destes vou por o meu corpo onde tenho o espírito.”

CARSON, Clayborne. Eu tenho um sonho – A Autobiografia de Martin Luther King. Lisboa, 2006

Ku Klux Klan

Since 1865, the Ku Klux Klan has provided a vehicle for a kind of hatred in America, and its members have been responsible for atrocities that are difficult for most people to even imagine.

The Klan itself has had three periods of significant strength in American history — in the late 19th century, in the 1920s, and during the 1950s and early 1960s when the civil rights movement was at its height. The Klan had a resurgence again in the 1970s, but did not reach its past level of influence. Since then, the Klan has become just one element in a much broader spectrum of white supremacist activity.

For many years the KKK quite literally could get away with murder. The Ku Klux Klan was an instrument of fear, and black people, Jews and even white civil rights workers knew that the fear was intended to control us, to keep things as they had been in the South through slavery, and after that ended, through Jim crow. This fear of the Klan was very real because, for a long time, the Klan had the power of Southern society on its side.

by Julian bond – “Ku Klux Klan, A History of Racism and Violence”

Emmett Till

The brutal movement that mobilized the civil rights movement

When 14-year-old Emmett Till took a train from Chicago to Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955, he entered the heart of Jim Crow country. Though he might have experienced segregation in Chicago, the outgoing youngster had little concept of how hostile white Southerners could be to African Americans.

Before putting her only son Emmett on bus in Chicago, his mother gave him a stern warning: “Be careful. If you have to get down on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly.”

Emmett, all of 14, didn’t heed his mother’s warning. On Aug. 27, 1955, Emmett was beaten and shot to death by two white men who threw the boy’s mutilated body into the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi. Emmett’s crime: talking and maybe even whistling to a white woman at a local grocery store.

Emmett’s death came a year after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregation. For the first time, blacks had the law on their side in the struggle for equality. Emmett’s killing struck a cord across a nation. White people in the North were as shocked as blacks at the cruelty of the killing. The national media picked up on the story, and the case mobilized the NAACP, which provided a safe house for witnesses in the trial of the killers. Emmett became a martyr for the fledgling civil rights movement that would engross the country in a few years.

The Emmett Till murder trial, 1955

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

In 1970, Melvin Van Peebles—along with Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis, one of the first African-American filmmakers to find work in Hollywood—directed a moderately successful serio-comedy entitled Watermelon Man , about a white bigot who suddenly finds himself in the body of a black man. With the $70,000 he earned from that film, plus additional funds from a number of independent sources, Van Peebles was able to finance his new project, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song —so named in order to solicit at least a modicum of coverage from the mainstream media.

On the one hand, Sweetback is a film so original in both conception and realization that it managed to defy all traditional genre expectations, thereby satisfying the desire (at least temporarily) for a popular alternative to the dominant Hollywood paradigm. On the other hand, Sweetback is a film that borrows narrative threads and conventions from an assortment of different genres (including the chase film, the biker film, and soft-core porno), thereby proving itself a forerunner of those “postmodern” hybrids so prevalent in theaters today. Finally, Sweetback is a film whose staggering and completely unexpected commercial success ensured its place at the head of an explosion in black-marketed, black-cast, and/or black-directed productions, an explosion that soon went by the ambivalent name of “Blaxploitation cinema.”

Sweetback makes manifest its revolutionary pretensions with the following words, which appear at the bottom of the screen before the opening credits role: “This film is dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who have had enough of the Man.” The shocking first scene finds a pre-teen Sweetback (played by Melvin’s son, Mario Van Peebles) working in a whorehouse, where a grateful call-girl screams out his nickname during orgasm. Though some viewers found symbolic beauty here (Black Panther leader Huey Newton went so far as to claim that the woman “in fact baptizes [Sweetback] into his true manhood”), others in the African-American community, such as Ebony reviewer Lerone Bennett, Jr., felt that Sweetback’s initiation is not so much an “act of love” as “the rape of a child by a 40-year-old prostitute. The film concludes on an ominous note for white audiences, as the words “A Baadasssss nigger is coming to collect some dues” flash across the screen.

Although neither the popularity of Sweetback at the time of its release, nor its influence on future black filmmakers, can possibly be denied, its legacy—as well as that of Blaxploitation cinema generally— remains a matter of controversy to this day. In interviews, as well as in the promotional book accompanying its theatrical release, Van Peebles called the film “revolutionary,” as it tells the story of a “bad nigger” who mounts a successful challenge against the oppressive white power system. This view was supported by Newton, who devoted an entire issue of the Black Panther party newspaper to Sweetback. Bill Cosby has reportedly called the film a work of genius. And a number of African-American intellectuals sought to add Sweetback’s name to the roll call of black folkloric heroes in virtue of his prodigious virility.

Unfortunately, what tends to get lost in the heated debates surrounding Sweetback ‘s socio-political “message” is an acknowledgment and consideration of Van Peeble’s innovative directorial style. By making creative use of such techniques as montage, superimposition, freeze frames, jump cuts, zoom-ins, split-screen editing, stylized dialogue, multiply-exposed scenes, and a soulful musical score by the black rock group Earth Wind and Fire, Van Peebles broke new ground and challenged viewers’ expectations. All of this should make obvious the point that Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is not just a statement, protest, or historical oddity, but a unique cinematic experience for people of all colors to reflect upon, appreciate, and enjoy.

by Steven Schneider

Sweet Baadassss Song Intro


Sidney Poitier

“Sidney Poitier created a one-man revolution in the way the cinema portrayed people of color. The dignity, intelligence and truth he brought to every role he accepted had immeasurable impact in paving the way to the advancement in civil rights in the last half of the 21st century.” Said Dr. Dorothy I. Height, chair/ president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women


Sidney Poitier in the 1967 Norman Jewison’s film “In the Heat of the Night”

“What you doin’ here, man?

– Policeman.

– You’re a policeman here in Sparta?

– They’ve got a murder they don’t know what to do with. They need a whipping boy.

– You got a roof?

– No. I’ll find a motel.

– (laught) Viola… We got company.

– There was a time… When I could have had you shot.

– All right. Give me another day. Two days. I’m close. I can pull that fat cat down I can bring him right off this hill!

– Oh, boy. Man, you’re just like the rest of us. Ain’t you?

– OK, black boy. We come here to teach you some manners. Why don’t you come and get it, baby? Hit him, man! Get him from the side!

– All right, what’ll you have, Virgil?

– I ain’t serving him!

The Negro and the Constitution

“We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a healthy nation with one-tenth of the people ill-nourished, sick, harboring germs of disease which recognize no color lines—obey no Jim Crow laws. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime. We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flout the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. We cannot come to full prosperity with one great group so ill-delayed that it cannot buy goods. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people.

Today thirteen million black sons and daughters of our forefathers continue the fight for the translation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality. We believe with them that “if freedom is good for any it is good for all,” that we may conquer Southern armies by the sword, but it is another thing to conquer Southern hate, that if the franchise is given to Negroes, they will be vigilant and defend, even with their arms, the ark of federal liberty from treason and destruction by her enemies.”


Martin Luther King Speech, 13 April 1944,  Dublin (Geórgia)


Martin Luther King and Family

África e o Passado do Negro

“What is Africa to me;

Copper sun or scarlet sea,

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black,

Women from whose loins I sprang

When the birds of Eden sang?

One three centuries removed

From the scenes his fathers loved,

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,

What is Africa to me?”

Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

“Os negros são ao mesmo tempo mais e menos que um grupo étnico. Embora a cor os torne muito mais identificáveis do que a outro grupo étnico, falta-lhes a história comum e as tradições culturais que possuem os outros grupos. O problema que fundamentalmente interessa o negro é a descoberta da sua identidade, ou então a criação de uma identidade própria. O que a história nos leva a pensar é que quando o negro resolver o problema da identidade terá dado o grande passo no sentido de encontrar os meios que o hão-de relacionar com os outros grupos de americanos.

A solução do problema da identidade do negro está hoje muito mais próxima do que há alguns anos atrás. O factor que mais contribuiu para tal foi a criação e independência dos Estados africanos, fenómeno que torna possível aos negros americanos refazerem as suas relações com a África, que os encoraja a reconstruir a sua história e a restaurar os laços culturais que os ligam a ela e que tinham sido destruídos pela escravatura.

Para compreender isto é necessário relembrar a imagem da África que prevalecia ainda à poucos anos – imagem que efectivamente ainda hoje domina a maioria dos brancos. A África era o Continente Negro, “um continente sem história”, uma região de selvajaria e ignorância cujos povos não tinham contribuído em nada para o progresso da humanidade.

Perante esta imagem degradante do “africano”, a criança negra estava inerme; não dispunha de elementos que lhe possibilitassem saber que a imagem era falsa. A inferioridade do homem negro – como diz Harold Isaacs – era-lhe imposta mercê da força e autoridade do mundo branco que a cercava.

Apelidar alguém de “preto africano” tornou-se mesmo um insulto ainda maior do que apelidá-lo de preto. Portanto, e de um modo geral, a África servia para alienar o negro não só dos Estados Unidos, como de toda a humanidade. Para defender-se, dissociava-se então da África.

A palavra chave era o termo “preto”. Porque, para que o negro se dissociasse de África, tinha forçosamente de se dissociar da cor, do cabelo, dos traços africanos, da imagem negróide que aparecia nos livros das escolas e que impressionava os seus sentidos nos filmes. Mas, em última análise, a dissociação era impossível; a cor continuava a ser uma realidade. E assim, ao rejeitar a África, o negro rejeitava-se.

A Independência da África alterou e continua a alterar profundamente as relações dos negros americanos consigo próprios e com África. Poucos serão os que não se sentem orgulhosos quando os embaixadores, os presidentes e os primeiro-ministros da África negra são recebidos na Casa Branca ou tomam lugar nas Nações Unidas. Aqueles a quem desagradava profundamente o simples mencionar da palavra África, interessam-se agora pela arte e poesia africanas. Os mesmos homens que tinham negado valor às características negras, ponderam hoje o significado e discutem os atributos da negritude. Adolescentes e jovens cujos ídolos eram actores ou desportistas, veneram agora a memória de Lumumba e fazem de Nkrumah um herói. Mulheres que ainda há pouco compravam desfrisadores do cabelo e produtos para branquear a pele, aderem presentemente à “moda africana” quanto aos penteados.

Segundo o que se conhece, o primeiro ser que criou um instrumento foi Zinganthropus, descoberto por Prof. Leakey em África

Ainda se discute se os mesopotâmicos eram realmente negros, embora muitas coisas levem a crer que o eram

Os Egípcios eram muito provavelmente uma mistura de raças. Nas suas pinturas apresentam-se como negros, vermelho-castanhos e amarelos. As figuras de pele branca representam usualmente os estrangeiros ou os escravos.

Além disso, os negros, independentemente da classe social ou nível intelectual, interessam-se crescentemente pela história de África. Descobrem como como consequência que o seu passado – ou pelo menos aquela parte do seu passado que pertence à África – é muito mais fácil de aceitar do que tinham pensado, pois a África possui uma história que lhes permite andar de cabeça erguida. Olhando para o que foi a história africana, é evidente que o Negro não pode envergonhar-se da sua raça quanto ao passado.

Realmente, pertinente não é saber se as sociedades africanas foram melhores ou piores, mais civilizadas ou menos civilizadas, que as sociedades criadas pelos Brancos. O ponto crucial é que os Negros podem andar de cabeça erguida, pois sabem hoje que o homem de pele negra contribuiu para o progresso da humanidade, que ele criou e desenvolveu sociedades e civilizações altamente evoluídas. Tendo-se-lhe negado durante tanto tempo um lugar na história, é essencial que o Negro reivindique nela o lugar que lhe pertence. E é igualmente importante que o Branco compreenda que o Negro tem direito a esse lugar.”  Charles Silberman em “Crise em Preto e Branco”, Dom Quixote, Lisboa, 1976

Charlie Parker

“Charlie Parker felt deeply about racism and the exploitation of his music that went with it. When Babs Gonzales tried to get him off drugs, he snapped: Wait until everybody gets rich off your style and you don’t have any bread, then lecture me about drugs.”


O Negro Norte Americano

“Poucos Negros e Brancos sabem que o primeiro Americano a derramar sangue na revolução que libertou este país da opressão britânica foi um marinheiro negro chamado Crispus Attucks. Negros e Brancos já se esqueceram quase por completo que foi um médico negro, o Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, quem fez a primeira operação ao coração bem-sucedida na América. Outro médico negro, o Dr. Charles Drew, foi em grande parte responsável pelo desenvolvimento de um método de separação do plasma sanguíneo e da sua conservação em larga escala, processo que permitiu salvar milhares de vidas na II Guerra Mundial e tornou possíveis muitos progressos importantes da medicina no pós-guerra. Os livros de História ignoram quase por completo que muitos cientistas e inventores negros que contribuíram para o enriquecimento da vida dos Americanos. Embora haja alguns que mencionam George Washigton Carver cujos trabalhos de investigação em produtos agrícolas ajudaram a reanimar a economia do Sul quando o trono do Rei Algodão começou a vacilar, ignoram a contribuição de Nobert Rillieux, cuja invenção de um tambor de evaporação veio revolucionar o processo de refinação do açúcar. Quantas pessoas sabem que a United Choe Machinery Company, empresa que vale muitos milhões de dólares, se desenvolveu a partir da máquina de coser das solas dos sapatos inventada no século passado por um Negro da Guiana Holandesa, Jan Matzeliger; Ou que Granville T. Woods, especialista em motores eléctricos, autor de muitos inventos que contribuíram decisivamente para a expansão e o progresso dos caminhos-de-ferro no princípio deste século, era um Negro? Até a contribuição do Negro para a música da América é por vezes menosprezada duma forma inacreditável.”

Martin Luther King em “Eu tenho um sonho – A Autobiografia de Martin Luther King, Bizâncio, Lisboa, 2006

Miles Davis

A candid conversation with the jazz world’s premier iconoclast, 1962


Davis: My troubles started when I learned to play the trumpet and hadn’t learned to dance.

PLAYBOY: You feel that the complaints about you are because of your race?

DAVIS : I know damn well a lot of it is race. White people have certain things they expect from Negro musicians — just like they’ve got labels for the whole Negro race. It goes clear back to the slavery days. That was when Uncle Tomming got started because white people demanded it. Every little black child grew up seeing that getting along with white people meant grinning and acting clowns. It helped white people to feel easy about what they had done, and were doing, to Negroes, and that’s carried right on over to now. You bring it down to musicians, they want you to not only play your instrument, but to entertain them, too, with grinning and dancing…

But prejudiced white people can’t see any of the other races as just individual people. If a white man robs a bank, it’s just a man robbed a bank. But if a Negro or a Puerto Rican does it, it’s them awful Negroes or Puerto Ricans. Hardly anybody not white hasn’t suffered from some of white people’s labels. It used to be said that all Negroes were shiftless and happy-go-lucky and lazy. But that’s been proved a lie so much that now the label is that what Negroes want integration for is so they can sleep in the bed with white people. It’s another damn lie. All Negroes want is to be free to do in this country just like anybody else.

PLAYBOY: Did you grow up with any white boys?

DAVIS : I didn’t grow up with any, not as friends, to speak of. But I went to school with some. In high school, I was the best in the music class on the trumpet. I knew it and all the rest knew it — but all the contest first prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. It made me so mad I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.

This black-white business is ticklish to try to explain. You don’t want to see Negroes every time you click on your set. That would be just as bad as now when you don’t see nobody but white people. But if movies and TV are supposed to reflect this country, and this country’s supposed to be democratic, then why don’t they do it? Let’s see all kinds of people dancing and acting. I see all kinds of kids downtown at the schools of dancing and acting, but from what I see in the movies and TV, it’s just the white ones that are getting any work.

I tell you why I feel so strong about the communication system. I never have forgotten one time in Europe this nice old man told me how in World War II, the Europeans didn’t know what to make of Negro troops. They had their picture of this country from our magazines and movies, and with a very few exceptions like Pops Armstrong and Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, they didn’t know about any Negroes except servants and laborers.

DAVIS : There are plenty I won’t play! I won’t take a booking nowhere in the South. I told you I just can’t stand Jim Crow, so I ain’t going down there in it. There’s enough of it here in the North, but at least you have the support of some laws.

I told you I ain’t going to play nowhere in the South that Negroes can’t come. But I ain’t going to play nowhere in the North that Negroes don’t come. It’s one of two reasons they won’t, either because they know they ain’t wanted, or because they don’t like the joint’s regular run of music. Negroes ain’t got as much money to throw away in night clubs as white people. So a club that Negroes patronize, you can figure that everybody that goes there comes expecting to hear good music.

by Alex Haley