Places of memory, spaces of resistance: the black people in Campinas

The black people presence in Campinas is of great importance, a remnant of a coffee slave period who transformed the city into the leading producer of São Paulo since 1850. After more than 30 years since of the abolishment of slavery, this exhibition intends to propose, based on two themes, a critical reflection on the immaterial elements of African-descendant nature that materialize in distinct spaces of Campinas.

Corpus Christi Procession (1920) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp


Black groups have always sought ways to keep their traditions alive, and syncretic religiosity has been one of the most effective ways. Institutional or not, blacks organized and created their own space as means of resistance and mutual aid, still in the slave context of the nineteenth century. In this way, we try to show the articulation and the agency of these individuals in their daily life, a black population presented more present and active, instead of presenting it as apathetic and without expression in history.

Compromise of Brotherhood of the Sacred Sacrament (1854) by Brotherhood of the Sacred SacramentCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Religion was very present in nineteenth-century society. The lay religious brotherhoods were the main institutional forms representative of Catholicism. Through them the devotions were organized around a saint, the festivities were promoted during the year and a decent burial was assured to its members.

Chapter 1 of Compromise of the Brotherhood of the Sacred Sacrament (1854) by Brotherhood of the Sacred SacramentCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Very common in society, the brotherhoods had social hierarchical, with those associations for elites and others of a popular nature and / or aimed at black groups. This can be seen in the case of the Campinas brotherhood of the Blessed Sacrament, which did not accept slaves and had high monthly payments, so that only the elitist members of society could participate.

Ex-slavery built the S. Benedict Church (1979) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The black population organized their religiosity also through institutional means, especially in brotherhoods, strengthening devotions to black saints, such as St. Benedict and Our Lady of the Rosary. In the case of Campinas, black participation was active in religious life.

S. Benedict Church (1889) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The brotherhood of St. Benedict, for example, was very active, especially in promoting parties. The construction of the chapel designed for the brotherhood, inaugurated in 1885, was the work of a former slave, Tito de Camargo Andrade (Mestre Tito), who organized the institution to raise funds through alms.

Tito de Camargo Andrade's inventory (1882) by Campinas municipal judgmentCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Saint Benedict church (1940/1949) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

In the nineteenth century, it was common belief that the soul was more probability to be saved if the person were buried close of holy spaces (such as consecrated cemeteries and even within churches). The church of São Benedito de Campinas, located between Lusitana and 24 de maio streets in 1878, was built next to the ancient Cemetery of the Captive, because it was an important space for black religiosity, increasing the idea that their ancestors would be blessed in the afterlife.

The church of Rosário dated from 1817 (1974) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Another institutional space characterized by a black devotion is the church of Our Lady of the Rosary. Built at the beginning of the 19th century, it had a great participation in the religious organization of the city, being the main church in specific moments. It was demolished in 1956, due to Francisco Prestes Maia's Urban Improvement Plan, dated 1938, which planned to widen several streets, among them Francisco Glicério Avenue.

Rosário Square (1900) by P.D.Centro de Memória-Unicamp

Church of Our Lady of Rosary (1913/1920) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The Church of the Rosary, according to the researcher Celso Maria de Mello Pupo (1900-2003), was raised with the participation of the alms of black captives. These demonstrate the interest of this group in establishing devotions to which there was an identity connection, such as the Virgin of the Rosary, devotion linked to the conquest of Africa.

Demolition of the Church of Our Lady of Rosary (1956-05/1956-09) by Aristides Pedro da SilvaCentro de Memória-Unicamp

And the Congadas? by C.S.F.Centro de Memória-Unicamp

Within the institutional way, as presented in the brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary, black religiosity manifested itself in a way that tangled clerical orthodoxy. Often, the African roots appeared through celebrations, such as the congada.

Organize and carry out small parties… (1967) by Geraldo Sesso JuniorCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The permissions of these parties reveal a complex network of interests and paternalism on the part of the sir, but also present the action of the blacks in guarantee to express some traditions.

However, the black tradition was retracted many times, especially when the Church abhorred such practices, as the practice of candomblé, considered heretical and even demonic.

There was a hysteria about the religions of African origin, very policed by the lay and clerical authorities. The fear caused coercive measures intended to restrict the black practice and erase them.

Campinas plant (1878) by Julio Mariano JuniorCentro de Memória-Unicamp

In the farms the scene… (1928) by Leopoldo AmaralCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The nights of St John were also festivities that had a large presence of slaves and freedmen. The Christian party represented a time when the masters allowed their slaves a break from their work, as a way of captivating them with the new imposed religion, and granted themselves manumission at these times.

Extending the dances… (1928) by Leopoldo AmaralCentro de Memória-Unicamp

However, as it is possible to see in the passage, the slaves appropriated those moments to express their traditions. With a mixture of Catholicism and African religions, these moments in the Christian calendar are examples of resistance to the culture that the elites sought to erase, in which the slaves sought to preserve their ancestors' practices in a hostile and proselytic environment.

Slavery Caetana portrait (1900) by Sophian NieblerCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Memory and resistance

Brazil’s slavery past demarcated specific social places for black women whether in captivity or in the years after 1888. One of those places was the domestic slave, who then became the maid, whose function was, besides cleaning, cooking and washing, caring for white babies and children of their masters and bosses.

D. Pedro II in the arms of his mãe-preta (1938) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

These figures were commonly called “Mãe Preta”, something similar to “black mother”, partly because of the affection they built day by day with their sinhôzinhos (little masters) , and, partly , also to delimit the social difference that existed between the child and the black woman who watched him or her. She was not their real mother, she was the slave who supported the little ones in all their needs - that is, someone who is not family, because she is not even considered a subject itself.

Tomorrow is the Mãe Preta's day (1928) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Thus, besides “amas de leite” (breastmaids), the “mães pretas” were the ones who taught life’s first lessons to white children. However, because of it , they would leave their own children, whom they gave birth to, under the care of other women - usually older slaves or those who were sick, who stayed in the “senzala”. Therefore, the memory of black mothers also carried a side of pain. The pain of a woman who could not dedicate her care and affection to her own children, because she was responsible for the children of her lords - who would be, themselves, their future owners.

September 28th is the day of approval of the “Lei do Ventre Livre” (1871). It was the law that freed the womb from the enslaved. That is, the freedom of future generations began with black mothers.

Mãi Preta by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Slavery Izabel portrait (1900) by Sophian NieblerCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Commemorative - September, 28 (1984) by José de FreitasCentro de Memória-Unicamp

However, throughout the twentieth century, this figure was appropriated by the Brazilian black movement and re-signified as a symbol of strength and worthy of homage.

The unveiling of Mãe Preta's statue (1984-05-13) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

In 1984 was inaugurated in Campinas a monument to honor the “mãe preta”, a replica of what exists in Paissandú Square, in São Paulo. The Federação Paulista dos Homens de Cor, important symbol of black associativism in the city, was responsible for the efforts of building the sculpture.

The unveiling of Mãe Preta's statue, Unidentified, 1984-05-13, From the collection of: Centro de Memória-Unicamp
Show lessRead more
The unveiling of Mãe Preta's statue, Unidentified, 1984-05-13, From the collection of: Centro de Memória-Unicamp
Show lessRead more

S. Benedict Church (1975) by UnidentifiedCentro de Memória-Unicamp

The place chosen for the monument to the Mãe Preta in the city of Campinas was a square in front of the Church of São Benedito, in the center. There was the old one Cemitério dos Cativos, where the slaves of the region were buried until the end of the 19th century. So is a place where they pulsate the memories of the Campinas black population. Memories of pain, but also of strength and resistance.

The history of slavery also do it in Campinas (1984) by Ismael PfeiferCentro de Memória-Unicamp

Credits: Story

Prof. Dr. André Luiz Paulilo

Curatorial Project
João Lucas Moura e Souza
Patrícia Oliveira

João Lucas Moura e Souza
Patrícia Oliveira
João Paulo Berto

Ana Cláudia Cermaria

Centro de Memória-UNICAMP

November, 2018

The exhibition is the result of activities of Supervised Internship of Department of History at Philosophy and Human Sciences Institute at Campinas University, conducted under the supervision of PhD Aldair Carlos Rodrigues.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of Brazil
A showcase of Brazil's finest cultural treasures.
View theme
Google apps