"Mulattoes" in the NAACP and Supreme Court

According to Carl Degler:
It is not accidental that many of the great leaders of Negro organizations in the United States have been mulattoes, men like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Whitney Young, Walter White, John Hope, Adam Clayton Powell, and Roy Wilkins. In Brazil such men would have been sorely tempted to ignore their connection with other blacks and use the mulatto escape hatch for their individual advancement. Indeed one might say that the great potential leaders of blacks in Brazil have all escaped through the hatch, to their own improvement, but to the loss of Negroes in general (Neither Black nor White, 1971 edition, p. 183).

Thurgood Marshall poses with the two principal officers of the NAACP: Walter White, the national secretary, center, and Roy Wilkins, the assistant national secretary.

Another prominent "Black/White" Brazilian politician

Octávio Mangabeira (1886-1960) was governor of Bahia from 1947 to 1951, and a member of the prestigious Brazilian Academy of Letters (elected in 1930, but only recognised as such in 1934, because he was exiled during the political upheavals sparked by Getúlio Vargas). He was elected Senator in 1958 and died while in office. Considered Black by African-Americans during his time, he would at most be considered a light-skinned mulatto, but his political and literary prestige made him White in Brazil.

A "whitened" portrait of Floriano Peixoto

President Marshal Peixoto seems to have had a "nose job" in this portrait. Certainly, all traces of African ancestry have been removed (see photo in the entry titled "Black or White - or neither?").

Another portrayal of Nilo Peçanha

This image of Nilo Peçanha on a postage stamp makes his African ancestry even more apparent.

Black or White - or neither?

While reading Carl Degler's Neither Black nor White and African-American Reflections on Brazil's Racial Paradise, organised by David J. Hellwig and kindly loaned to me by Barry Stinson, I've found that, in the early 20th century, many Americans mistakenly concluded that Brazil was a more favourable place for Blacks because this country has had at least two presidents whom they considered to be "Negroes". Here are their photographs:

Marshal Floriano Peixoto (1891-1894)

Nilo Peçanha (1906-1909)

The fact that these two former presidents might be considered "Black" would come as a complete surprise to most Brazilians - even today.


Machado de Assis

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Arguably Brazil's greatest writer, Machado de Assis used the "mulatto escape hatch" and was known to "whiten" his photographs. This photo by renowned Brazilian photographer Marc Ferrez leaves no doubt as to his African DNA. Literary critic Harold Bloom may have considered Machado a black writer - in fact, the "greatest black writer in western literature" - but few Brazilians do. If his colour is recalled at all, he is considered a mulatto, but his African ancestry would come as a surprise to many people in a country where he is revered as a literary giant.
This is how he is usually depicted:

You'll find more information on Machado de Assis here