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Gilberto Freyre c. 1945
Gilberto de Mello Freyre
March 15, 1900
|Died||July 18, 1987 (aged 87)|
|Alma mater||Baylor University, Columbia University|
|Known for||Casa-Grande & Senzala, concept of racial democracy|
|Awards||Prêmio Machado de Assis, Prêmio Jabuti|
|Fields||Sociology, Historian, Anthropology, Writer|
Gilberto de Mello Freyre KBE (March 15, 1900 – July 18, 1987) was a Brazilian sociologist, anthropologist, historian, writer, painter, journalist and congressman, born in Recife, Northeast Brazil. He is commonly associated with other major Brazilian cultural interpreters of the first half of the 20th century, such as Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and Caio Prado Júnior. His best-known work is a sociological treatise named Casa-Grande & Senzala (variously translated, but roughly The Masters and the Slaves, as on a traditional plantation). Two sequels followed, The Mansions & the Shanties: The Making of Modern Brazil and Order & Progress: Brazil from Monarchy to Republic. The trilogy is generally considered a classic of modern cultural anthropology and social history, although it is not without its critics.
Like other Latin-American intellectuals, Freyre had an internationalist and precocious academic career, having studied at Baylor University, Texas from the age of eighteen and then at Columbia University, where he got his master's degree under the tutelage of William Shepperd. At Columbia Freyre was a student of the anthropologist Franz Boas. After coming back to Recife in 1923, Freyre spearheaded a handful of writers of the so-called Regionalista Movement. After working extensively as a journalist, he was made Head of Cabinet of the Governor of the State of Pernambuco, Estácio Coimbra. With the 1930 revolution and the rise of Getúlio Vargas, both Coimbra and Freyre went into exile. Freyre went first to Portugal and then to the US, where he worked as Visiting Professor at Stanford. By 1932, Freyre had returned to Brazil. In 1933, Freyre's best-known work, The Masters and the Slaves was published and was well received. In 1946, Freyre was elected to the federal Congress. At various times, Freyre also served as director of the newspapers A Província and Diario de Pernambuco.
In 1962, Freyre was awarded the Prêmio Machado de Assis of the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters), one of the most prestigious awards in the field of Brazilian literature. Over the course of his long career, Freyre received numerous other awards, honorary degrees, and other honors both in Brazil and internationally. Examples include admission to L'ordre des Arts et Lettres (France), investiture as Grand Officier de La Légion d'Honneur (France), investiture as Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Great Britain), the Gran-Cruz of the Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique (Portugal), and honorary doctorates at Columbia University and the Sorbonne.
Freyre's most widely known work is The Masters and the Slaves (Casa-Grande & Senzala, 1933). This is a revolutionary work for the study of races and cultures in Brazil, written in a quite personal and impressionistic tone. The book is a turning point in the analysis of the black heritage in Brazil, which is highly extolled by Freyre. His effort both to rehabilitate the black culture and identify Brazil as a conciliatory country is comparable to the ones of other Latin American writers, such as Fernando Ortiz in Cuba (Contrapunteo Cubano de Tobacco y Azúcar, 1940), and José Vasconcelos in Mexico (La Raza Cosmica, 1926).
The Masters and the Slaves is the first of a series of three books, that included The Mansions and the Shanties (1938) and Order and Progress (1957). Other very important contributions of Freyre were Northeast (Nordeste) and The English in Brazil (1948).
The actions of Freyre as a public intellectual are rather controversial. Labeled as a communist in the 1930s, he later moved to the political Right. He supported Portugal's Salazar government in the 1950s, and after 1964 he defended the military dictatorship of Brazil's Humberto Castelo Branco. Freyre is considered to be the "father" of lusotropicalism: the theory whereby miscegenation had been a positive force in Brazil. "Miscegenation" at that time tended to be viewed in a negative way, as in the theories of Eugen Fischer and Charles Davenport.
Freyre was also recognised by his literary style. His poem "Bahia of all saints and of almost all sins" provoked Manuel Bandeira's enthusiasm. Freyre wrote this long poem inspired by his first visit to Salvador. Manuel Bandeira wrote about it in June 1927: "Your poem, Gilberto, will be an eternal source of jealousy to me"(cf. Manuel Bandeira, Poesia e Prosa. Rio de Janeiro: Aguilar, 1958, v. II: Prose, p. 1398).
Freyre died on July 18, 1987 in Recife.
“Every Brazilian, even the light skinned fair haired one carries about him on his soul, when not on soul and body alike, the shadow or at least the birthmark of the aborigine or the negro, in our affections, our excessive mimicry, our Catholicism which so delights the senses, our music, our gait, our speech, our cradle songs, in everything that is a sincere expression of our lives, we almost all of us bear the mark of that influence.” -The Masters and the Slaves