brazil’s only hbcu publishes a black cultural history

June 12, 2019
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The history of the African diaspora does not begin with—and should not be defined by—slavery. Before Africans became enslaved, they were members of societies—people with expertise in many fields, contributing to human history with important inventions that range from the telescope to setting the basis of cubism in art. This rich history should be in school books, but too often it is not. Zumbi dos Palmares College, the only Black college in Brazil, and J. Walter Thompson Brazil developed the encyclopedic book project, Black Box, unveiling a discarded part of white-washed history, in order to bring pride and knowledge to Afro-descendants in Brazil (and around the world), and to promote a historical correction. Black Box brings the stories of Black people’s cultural legacy to the spotlight.

ZUMBI DOS PALMARES | Black Box from J.Walter Thompson Brasil on Vimeo.

“After 300 years of slavery in Brazil, it is urgent to change the mindset that permeates a hidden past fundamental to regain self-esteem and correct crucial historical omissions that were the basis of racism in Brazil. We chose this path, through education, because we believe that is the right start. Correcting the past we can create a different future with more justice and opportunities,” wrote Danilo Janjacomo, Creative Director, and Talita Cardozo, Head of Art at JWT Brazil, in a joint statement.

15,000 hours of work by African-Brazilian researchers, historians, journalists, teachers, and people involved in Black culture begat a 200-page book that helps reshape history for readers. The book includes black boxes in translucent tracing paper, revealing important historical information and names of Black heroes when the pages are turned over.

It is important to note that the map of the Palmares area was used to form every image in the book through generative design. Palmares was the greatest of the quilombos, community settlements founded by enslaved African who managed to escape. The Palmeres quilombo was established towards the end of the 16th century, on the border of the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco. There, under the leadership of Zumbi dos Palmares, for whom the college is named, the quilombo took in over 20,000 runaways slaves. It remains the greatest symbol of resistance to slavery in Brazil’s history.  A code was developed to transform the map of Palmeres quilombo into the pixels that form each image in Black Box, literally inserting the DNA of Black Brazil’s history into every illustration. Additionally, each chapter of the book became a subject at Zumbi dos Palmares College and was integrated into the syllabus of different college grades.