By Rita Shannon Koeser
August 18, 2008
"There was a land of cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South"
– from the opening of the film "Gone with the Wind (1939)
Surprisingly, at a cemetery in Brazil, in the interior of Sao Paulo state, the pre-Civil War American south is kept alive in songs, music, food and dance. Women in hoop skirts, and men in confederate uniforms eat the foods, dance the dances and listen to the music of the Old South. They come to this cemetery to keep alive the traditions of their ancestors, to recreate some of the traditions of the Old South, and to remember their heritage.
Campo cemetery (pictured below), located outside the city of Santa Barbara d’Oeste, amidst rolling hills and sugar cane fields, belongs to the members of the Fraternity of American Descendents (Fraternidade Descendencia Americana). There is a graveyard in which about 400 American settlers and some of their descendants are buried. One of the graves belongs to W.S. Wise, a great uncle of Rosalynn (Mrs. Jimmy) Carter, wife of the former president of the United States. In 1972, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter made a visit to this cemetery. The cemetery contains a small chapel, an obelisk with the confederate flag and the names of the original families, and a small museum with photos and artifacts from the original settlers.
The American Civil War (1861-1865), also known as the War Between the States, began when eleven southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy) with Jefferson Davis as their president. They fought against the United States of America (the Union) with Abraham Lincoln as president. A little known story from this war is the emigration, after the war, to Brazil of a large number of the defeated Southerners and how their descendants have kept their heritage alive up to this day. After the south lost the Civil War, the people were demoralized, and many of them looked for a better life in other countries. The emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, an admirer of the United States and interested in developing the cotton industry in his country, actively supported and subsidized this immigration.
The Americans had come to Brazil at the invitation of the emperor, but they stayed because they found a warm welcoming country with a climate similar to their own with soil good for growing cotton and other crops they were used to growing at home. Now, here they lie at this cemetery in Brazil far from their homes in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Texas and others. But their descendents, who live in and around a town called Americana (founded by the Americans) have not forgotten them and do much to honor their memory and keep some of the old traditions alive.
The descendents (called "confederados" in Brazil), through their organization, the Fraternity of American Descendants (Fraternidade Descendencia Americana), have an annual festival called "Festa Confederada" which is held at the cemetery. At this festival confederate flags are flying, traditional dress is worn, and traditional foods such as southern fried chicken, biscuits and gravy are enjoyed. The members play the music and do the dances that were popular in the Old South.
The movie most associated in the public mind with the American civil war and the fall of the Old South is "Gone with the Wind", a movie from 1939, still very popular. From the opening of the film "There was a land of cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a civilization gone with the wind"
Look for it also in a small cemetery in Brazil. And you will find it again.