The Revolt of the Whip

The Revolt of the Whip

The Revolt of the Whip

The Revolt of the Whip

Synopsis

This short book brings to life a unique and spectacular set of events in Latin American history. In November 1910, shortly after the inauguration of Brazilian President Hermes da Fonseca, ordinary sailors killed several officers and seized control of major new combat vessels, including two of the most powerful battleships ever produced, and commenced bombing Rio de Janeiro. The mutineers, led by an Afro-Brazilian and mostly black themselves, demanded greater rights- above all the abolition of flogging in the Brazilian navy, the last Western navy to tolerate it. This form of torture was closely associated in the sailors' minds with slavery, which had only been prohibited in Brazil in 1888. These events and the scandals that followed initiated a sustained debate about the role of race and class in Brazilian society and the extent to which Brazil could claim to be a modern nation. The commemoration of the centenary of the mutiny in 2010 saw the country still divided about the meaning of the Revolt of the Whip.

Excerpt

Although I hope to bring new information and insights to the “Revolt of the Whip”—a spectacular revolt in the Brazilian navy by largely black crews against an all-white officer corps in 1910—I am writing for a primarily American audience. Such readers might wonder whether there are similar events in the history of the United States. Unsurprisingly, there are no precise parallels in the American experience to the events described in the following pages, but three incidents in our own history deal with similar racial themes on the high seas or in the US Navy. Two of them concerned uprisings of captives aboard slavers—in 1839 on La Amistad, a Spanish-chartered vessel, and in 1841 on the Creole, an American ship. Both ended in court cases, the first in Connecticut, and the second on Nassau, in the Bahamas. Both, but especially the first, fired the abolitionist movement in the United States. In the Amistad case, ex-president John Quincy Adams defended the self-liberated slaves before the US Supreme Court, and Steven Spielberg told the story to the world in his movie Amistad. Though considered mutinies rather than cases of piracy, the Creole and Amistad incidents were revolts by captives rather than crew members, and in both instances the slaves ultimately walked free.

An incident more directly resembling the Brazilian rebellion occurred in World War II at Port Chicago, California. The mutiny there was more unambiguously a race-based rebellion than the Brazilian revolt studied here. Like the US Army, the navy had remained segregated throughout World War II. At Port Chicago the black seamen’s assignment had been to load munitions onto cargo ships in the war against Japan. On July 17, 1944, a terrific explosion occurred at the loading dock: 320 men were . . .

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