Abdias do Nascimento

Abdias do Nascimento (March 1914- May 23-24 2011) was a Brazilian writer, painter, politician/civil rights activist, and scholar. He died at the age of 97. It is not certain whether May 23 or  May 24. 


He was born on March 1914 in Franca, São Paulo Brazil, to Josina, a baker, and Seu Bem-Bem, a shoemaker and musician. He was their second son. Abdias's grandparents were slaves. He received an accounting degree from the University of Rio de Janeiro in 1929. At the age of 15, he enlisted in the army and move to São Paulo, where he became politically active. While in São Paulo, Abdias got into a brawl in club, for not admitting blacks. He was discharged from the army and served almost two years of prison time for the incidence. While in prison, his love for the theater and acting was developed. Abdias, after a military coup d’état in 1964, was forced into exile by the military government to the United States and later Nigeria. He returned to Brazil in 1983. 


Nascimento was also an actor. He acted in the play “Orfeu da Conceição”  by Vinicius de Moraes. The film would later be made into the 1959 play "Black Opheus." In 1944 Abdias founded the Black Experimental Theater(Teatro Experimental do Negro or TEN) in Rio de Janeiro, which celebrated Afro-Brazilian culture. The organization trained black actors, at a time when black roles were played by white actors in blackface. 

Political Activism

Abdias's activism started young, during his teenage years. In the 1930s, he joined the Brazilian Black Front which fought segregation in city shops. In 1945, Abdias helped found the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee to fight for the release of political prisoners. He later created the Institute for Research and Studies Afro-Brazilian(Ipeafro). In 1950, he help organized the first Congress of Brazilian Blacks, held in Rio de Janeiro. While in exile, during the 1970s, he help organize the Democratic Labor Party of Brazil. Racial discrimination was made part of its platform, from Abdias's influence. In the 1980s, he served in the Federal Chamber of Deputies. Abdias was the only member to declare himself black. He was focus on legislation combating racial problems. His political power was derived from the victories of his Party. Abdias never developed a political base. In Brazil, during the 80s politicians running on a Black platform tended to poll very poorly. In 1994, he was elected to the Senate and served till 1999.


Abdias began to paint while in exile. His work makes use of  a wide range of bright colors. Human and natural forms are fused with geometric shapes. His work deals with Afro-Brazilian cultural themes and religious subject matters.


Nascimento was visiting professor at Yale School of Drama(1969-1971), University of Buffalo, the State University of New York. He was the chairman and founder of the African Cultures in the New World, Puerto Rican Studies Program in 1971. Abdias was a voice of opposition to the notion of Brazil being a racial democracy. A viewpoint accepted by most of Brazilian society. To Abdias, Brazil was a racist society. A perspective, he espoused and expressed in art and political discourse.

Works Cited

Weber, Bruce. Abdias do Nascimento, Rights Voice, Dies at 97. New York Times, May 30,

Burton, Nsenga. Abdias Nascimento: Brazilian Civil Rights Activist Dies.Theroot.com. May 25, 2011