Top 8 Afro-Brazilians Who Left a Mark in Brazil

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Afro-Brazilians have made significant contributions to Brazil’s culture, politics, sports, and more throughout history. 

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In this article, we’ll highlight eight remarkable Afro-Brazilians who have made a significant impact on Brazil.

Top 8 Afro-Brazilians Who Left a Legacy in Brazil

Here are some amazing Afro-Brazilians who have left a legacy in Brazil, ranked alphabetically.

Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011)

Abdias do Nascimento. Image source: Burchfield Penny Art Center licensed under CC BY 2.0
Abdias do Nascimento. Image source: Burchfield Penny Art Center licensed under CC BY 2.0

Abdias do Nascimento was an Afro-Brazilian playwright, poet, professor, politician, painter, and civil rights activist. He was a well-known defender of the rights of and respect for Afro-Brazilian culture. 

He was the pioneer of the Black Experimental Theater in 1944, actively fighting against racial discrimination throughout his life. 

Additionally, Nascimento was elected to the Brazilian Congress in 1983, where he continued to advocate for racial and social equality.

People Also Read: 10 Incredible Black History Legends

Benedita da Silva (1942-Present)

A politician and social activist, Benedita da Silva was the first Afro-Brazilian woman to serve as a Brazilian cabinet member. 

She was a strong advocate for the rights of women and Afro-Brazilians, working to address issues related to inequality and discrimination.

She shares her journey in a book she co-authored, Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman’s Story of Politics and Love. 

Benedita da Silva makes a compelling case for economic and social human rights in Brazil and around the world in her memoir by sharing the moving account of her life as a fighter for the rights of women, people of color, and the poor.

You can read more about her life in her memoir on Amazon here.

Elza Soares (1937- 2022)

Elza Soares has a gift of a powerful voice. As a legendary samba singer with a career spanning several decades, Soares became an iconic figure In Brazilian music. 

The “The Diva of Samba” has used her platform to address social issues and advocate for racial equality.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908)

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was one of Brazil’s greatest writers,  a prominent poet, a playwright, a novelist, a short-story writer, and a literary critic. His art transcends the influence of Brazilian literary schools and is grounded in the traditions of European culture.

People often refer to him as the “father of Brazilian literature.” 

At age 17, he found work as a printer’s apprentice and started writing in his spare time, despite his illness. He was epileptic, unattractive to others, and struggled with stuttering. However, he shortly published stories, poems, and novels in the Romantic tradition.

Machado de Assis overcame societal obstacles and received global acclaim for his literary works despite encountering racial prejudice due to his mixed-race heritage. 

Machado was elected the first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1896, and he served in that capacity until his passing.

Some of his classic works include “Dom Casmurro” and “Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas.” 

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Marielle Franco (1979-2018)

Marielle Franco. Image source: People’s Dispatch licensed under CC BY 2.0
Marielle Franco. Image source: People’s Dispatch licensed under CC BY 2.0

Marielle Franco served as a councilor for the city of Rio de Janeiro and a politician. She spoke out against police brutality and supported the rights of marginalized groups like Afro-Brazilians, LGBTQ+, and residents of favelas. 

When she was murdered in 2018, it shocked the country and sparked demonstrations calling for justice and an end to violence in Brazil’s marginalized communities.

Milton Almeida dos Santos (1926-2001):

Milton Almeida dos Santos. Image source: observatorio3setor.org licensed under CC BY 2.0
Milton Almeida dos Santos. Image source: observatorio3setor.org licensed under CC BY 2.0

Milton Santos was a geographer and one of Brazil’s most influential scholars in his field. 

He was the first Afro-Brazilian to receive the Vautrin Lud International Geography Prize, which is regarded as geography’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. 

Additionally, Milton was a posthumous recipient of the Prêmio Ansio Teixeira. This award goes to outstanding contributors to Brazilian research and development by the Brazilian agency for improving higher education personnel every five years.

Santos’ research illuminated Brazil’s spatial dimensions of social and economic disparities by focusing on urban issues, social inequality, and regional development.

Pelé (1940-2022)

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento but professionally known as Pelé, he was considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. 

With more than 1,000 goals in his career, Pelé has won three FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962, and 1970). 

His exceptional football ability and success transcended national boundaries and helped enhance Brazil’s reputation abroad.

Zumbi dos Palmares (1655-1695)

Although Zumbi dos Palmares was born a free man in the Brazilian region of Palmares in 1655, the Portuguese captured him there when he was only six years old. 

A Portuguese priest named António Melo received him as a slave. He was given the name Francisco, learnt to speak Latin, practised the religion and language of Portugal, and had the responsibility of serving the Catholic mass in his new home. 

But Zumbi managed to free himself from slavery at the age of 15, going back to his hometown where he established himself as a Capoërae of Palmares practitioner of African martial arts. He was a reputable military strategist by the time he was in his early 20s.

Zumbi assumed command of the independent Quilombos dos Palmares and became its commander-in-chief before King Ganga Zumba’s demise. 

For many years, he was a significant focal point in the fight against Portuguese colonial oppression. Due to his bravery and charisma, Zumbi became a national hero in the Brazilian struggle for equality and freedom.

In 1695, Zumbi was murdered in a conflict between the Portuguese.

Brazil has observed November 20 as Black Awareness Day since the 1960s. In recognition of Zumbi, a black hero and freedom fighter, the day has special significance.

People Also Read: 10 Black Female Historical Figures Worth Celebrating

These Afro-Brazilians made a significant contribution to Brazilian history and culture. Despite the difficulties they encountered, their accomplishments and contributions continue to inspire young people. 

Their bravery, courage, and resilience will continue to have an impact on younger generations in the endless fight for social justice and racial equality in Brazil.

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.

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