Little-Known Black History Fact: Benedita da Silva

Benedita da Silva was an African-Brazilian activist and politician who organized her people in the midst of poverty and despair in Rio di Janiero.

Born in the shantytowns of Rio, da Silva lived with her 13 siblings in extreme conditions. As a child, she worked as a live-in maid to support her family and was subjected to rape at age seven. Lacking adequate medical care, she was forced to watch two of her own children die from diseases that could have been treated. Too discouraged to carry another child, she once once suffered through an unsanitary back alley abortion.

Da Silva was ready for her life and conditions to change, so after organizing her neighbors, they created a water and sewage system and made a source of electricity. Her claim to fame is the determination she learned from her strong single mother. She eventually formed a women’s branch of the Rio de Janeiro Federation of Slums. Although she was in her 40’s, da Silva went back to school and got her high school diploma, then her college degree alongside her daughter.

After enrolling in the Worker’s Party as a political candidate, da Silva became the city’s first black councilwoman. Only four years later, she won the position of federal deputy, which led to her role as senator, then the first black female governor of Rio. She governs her community with the belief that blacks and women should be more involved in the Brazilian political infrastructure, especially if blacks account for 50 percent of the comunity.

Benedita da Silva continues to dedicate her life to the women and the oppressed population of Rio de Janiero.

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