Saturday, March 17, 2018

Across Many Aprils

When I was in elementary and middle school in Virginia in the 1970s, we learned about the Civil War from many sources, including battlefield visits. The title of one book has stay with me, because Across Five Aprils is a very handy mnemonic for the dates that bracket this horrible rift, from Fort Sumter to the Appomattox Court House: April 22, 1861 to April 9, 1865.

In many ways, of course, the war never ended. I first learned of the war through a southern lens, but neither my teachers nor my community embraced the Lost Cause continuation of the conflict, as I later learned many thousands still do. Even where I live today, in a part of Massachusetts where nearly every town boasts a Union Street and an honor roll of those who defended the United States against its most serious (to date) insurgency, the Confederate Battle flag sometimes flies ... and more so since the 2016 ascendency of white supremacists.

As odd as it is to have "traitor" flags this far north of the Mason-Dixon line, it is even stranger to know that the Confederacy is somewhat widely celebrated several thousand miles south of the South, in Brazil, where "refugees" of the war's end moved in order to continue their "right" to enslave others. At the time the war ended and the 1863 de jure emancipation took effect, slavery was still legal in Brazil, as it would be until 1888. Of course, nobody knew how long it would last, nor that it would last longer there than anywhere in the Americas, but it seemed to these deplorable folks that it was a place where they could their "lifestyle," as this form of oppression came to be known.


The government of Brazil encouraged this migration by offering free land in parts of São Paulo and elsewhere, mainly in that first decade following the end of the war. It was already illegal to import slaves to Brazil, but some of the migrants brought with them "servants" who were free only in name and others managed to purchase humans already in the country. Following the success of Brazil's emancipation movement in 1888, of course, those who had not returned home or moved elsewhere found some way to adapt to a new reality without legal slavery.

I was thinking of this strange history yesterday, as I was exploring a large-format map of Brazil with a Brazilian friend who did not know the story. He did know the city of Anápolis, Goiás, which I had read was the main target of the migration. As I looked for information about it, I learned that the São Paulo towns of Santa Bárbara D'Oeste and Americana were more important destinations.

I also learned some of the details mentions above, and one more startling fact: the Confederado culture is still widely celebrated among descendants of those migrants! Two recent articles describe the persistence of the annual commemorations of the confederacy -- more than 150 Aprils later: Dixie Roots and A Slice of the Confederacy describe the celebrations and questions of racism of both the past and the present in both countries.
Photo: Associated Press. Apologies for inclusion of the insurgency flag, which I usually avoid sharing because of the racist intent with which it is usually displayed. The juxtaposition with U.S. and Brazil flags, however, captures this story perfectly. It brings to mind the thought I always have when I see the Confederate and U.S. flags together: "Choose a side!"

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