Samba school puts Rio’s long-silenced legacy of slavery at center of carnival

In the 1800s, Luiz Gama defied fate to become Brazil’s first Black lawyer. Nearly a century and a half later, Portela’s parade puts his struggle center stage

Born in 1830 to a trafficked African woman who escaped enslavement and led uprisings, Luiz Gama defied fate and the Brazilian empire to become the country’s first Black lawyer and a leading abolitionist.

When he was 10 his father, a Portuguese nobleman, illegally sold him into slavery to pay off gambling debts. Gama regained his freedom as a young adult and having learnt to read, became a writer, intellectual and self-taught lawyer. He founded newspapers defending abolition and used the law to help free more than 500 enslaved people before Brazil finally abolished slavery in 1888, six years after he died.

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