In late July 1955, after sailing to France and then taking a train to Poland, the Brazilian Black poet Solano Trindade disembarked at the 5th World Festival of Youth and Students in Warsaw. His group, the Teatro Popular Brasileiro (the Brazilian Popular Theater), which he founded in 1950 with the Bahian sociologist Edison Carneiro, was one of the festival’s attractions. He participated in a cultural convergence emblematic of the Cold War era, where more than 30,000 youth from 114 countries championed the motto “For Peace and Friendship – Against the Aggressive Imperialist Pacts.” Following the success of Trindade’s performances at the festival, the Brazilian Popular Theater was invited to a tour to Poland and Czechoslovakia, drawing crowds of 2 to 5 thousand, echoed with success in Eastern Europe.1 Analyzing sources from the Brazilian National Library, such as Trindade’s interviews published in different newspapers, photos, and one of his poems, this article describes poet Solano Trindade’s visit to the Soviet bloc in 1955.
Poet, filmmaker, painter, director of theater, and one of the greatest Brazilian cultural producers of his time, Francisco Solano Trindade was, for several critics, the pioneer of Black poetry in Brazil. When he was born in Recife, Pernambuco, slavery had been abolished only twenty years prior. But racism was the permanent reality he had faced since he was a boy. Later, he used his art to denounce racism, discrimination, and the people’s struggle to face these ills. Affiliated with the Communist Party, he was persecuted, and the police invaded his home on numerous occasions since the time of General Eurico Gaspar Dutra’s government in the 1940s. In 1950, he founded the Brazilian Popular Theater, which, formed by the popular class — housewives, workers, and students–worked on the origins of dances such as maracatu and bumba-meu-boi and promoted acting and diction courses.
After four months and a resounding success in Eastern Europe, the Brazilian Popular Theater gianed legitimacy in Brazil. As the theaters were small for the number of spectators (8 to 10 thousand at each exhibition), they had to perform in the amphitheaters where artistic ice skating shows took place. Around 200 thousand people watched the representations of Brazilian popular art. The Brazilian group traveled toward Czechoslovakia (Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Gottwaldov, Ústí nad Labem, Liberec, Prerov, Ostrava, Zilina, Banska Bystrica, Nitra, and Pardubice) and then made more presentations in Poland (Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Lodz, Krakow, and Stalinogrod [now Katowice]).2
In a world grappling with the twilight of colonialism, Trindade brought his unique perspective shaped by his early encounters with racism. His multifaceted contributions to cultural and political movements, including the creation of organizations like the Frente Negra Pernambucana (Pernambucan Black Front), marked him as a remarkable cultural activist. The poet’s odyssey through the Eastern Bloc is treated in his poem “Conversa com Luci.” Contrasting the racial dynamics he encountered in the East with the segregated struggles in the U.S. and Brazil, Trindade painted a positive picture of diversity and unity in socialist Eastern Europe.
In the poem Conversation with Lucy, published in 1961, Trindade compares three contexts: American racial segregation, symbolized in the case of Autherine Lucy, the first African American student admitted to the University of Alabama, who was later expelled because of White supremacist riots and resistance in 1956. The second is the Brazilian context represented by the case of the police kidnapping and murder of the Black leftist journalist Ozéias Ferreira in Rio de Janeiro in 1956. Trindade compares these two scenes of anti-Black violence to the multiracial, multicultural, and celebratory experiences in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Trindade’s observations on racial dynamics in the Eastern Bloc, captured in this poem, challenged the prevailing notion of “racial democracy” in Brazil, offering a nuanced critique. The multicultural unity he witnessed in the Socialist Bloc, symbolized by “flowers received in Czechoslovakia,” reflected a stark departure from the racial struggles in the West. “I will remember my stay in Czechoslovakia as one of the most beautiful experiences of my artistic career,” said Solano Trindade in 1955.3 Solano also said that the presence of Black people on the streets of Prague and Warsaw itself was “a great spectacle.” The members of his Theater group were “hugged and kissed in the street,” and, eventually, they “found boyfriends [and girlfriends]. Blonde boyfriends,” Solano added.4
Solano Trindade joined a selected group of notable Black travelers who breached the Iron Curtain, finding a unique racial atmosphere. These included Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and Claude McKay, each leaving their imprint on the socio-political landscape. Tamara J. Walker pointed out that Black people were invited to visit and stay in the Soviet bloc because the Soviets considered them colonized people within their own country by their fellow citizens and sought to train them to lead Communist movements. They are trying to spread the Communist message of welcome and acceptance, as well as establishing technical and cultural cooperation.
Eastern Europe welcomed Trindade into a milieu where racial solidarity was embraced, contrasting sharply with his experiences of racism in Brazil. His journey aligned him with other Black luminaries who traversed the Iron Curtain, experiencing a unique form of anti-racism. Figures like Margaret Glasgow and Robert Robinson found refuge in the Soviet Union, escaping racial oppression in American society. Trindade’s encounters with a racially inclusive Eastern Europe contributed to a broader narrative of Black travelers discovering a sense of humanity beyond the racial confines they faced in their homelands.
In reflecting on their journeys to the East, the Socialist Bloc is a mythical racial representation of socialism yet to be realized elsewhere. This sentiment was shared by revolutionary leaders like George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, and Amilcar Cabral, all admirers of the Soviet Union. Trindade’s voyage, part of a larger narrative of Black travelers, illuminated the intricate tapestry of race, ideology, and solidarity during the Cold War, leaving an indelible mark on his artistic and political legacy.
- Ferreira Gullar, “Exu Baixou na Cortina de Ferro,” Revista Manchete, Rio de Janeiro, October 22, 1955, 12. ↩
- “O TPB levou a música folclórica as cidades da Polônia e Tchecoslováquia,” Imprensa Popular, Rio de Janeiro, October 16, 1955, 4. ↩
- Jaromir Pesek, “O sucesso do TPB na Tchecoslovaquia,” Imprensa Popular, Rio de Janeiro, October 18, 1955, 4. ↩
- Ferreira Gullar, “Exu Baixou na Cortina de Ferro,” Revista Manchete, Rio de Janeiro, October 22, 1955, 10-12. ↩