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Perspective: Americana

Confederate descendants attend a Confederate party in Brazil
Wikimedia Commons
Confederate descendants attend a Confederate party in Brazil

After the Civil War, 20,000 southerners left the United States to settle in Brazil. They had lost a lot during the war and were unwilling to remain in a place that was under Federal occupation and that no longer allowed slavery, which would remain legal in Brazil until 1888.
Emperor Dom Pedro, seeing an opportunity to develop Brazil’s cotton industry, offered free transportation, cheap land and an easy path to citizenship for the new immigrants. They created a community in the south of Brazil that became known as Americana.

Over time, intermarriage led to assimilation for most of the community, but to this day, many reunite once a year to celebrate the old traditions by displaying the confederate flag, wearing confederate uniforms, singing old folk songs, and enjoying southern food and dance.

In 1972, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and his wife visited the old cemetery there, where one of Rosalynn’s ancestors was buried. Moved by the festival’s display of the old south, Carter delivered a sermon.

It may be hard to square this image with the racially progressive president Carter became just four years later, and then during his long post-presidential career. But not really, when you consider that most of Carter’s first 50 years were spent in the Jim Crow south. He came gradually to see the injustice of racial prejudice. But once he gained the power of the presidency, he used that power to make major change.

I’m Deborah Booth and that’s my perspective.

Deborah Booth retired in Fall 2014 from NIU, where she was the director of External Programs for the College of Visual and Performing Arts.