The least-known yet most compelling chapter of the Civil War saga may well be the story of the thousands of Confederates who refused to come back into the Union after 1865, opting instead to create a new "Dixie" in Brazil.
That portion of American history and the stories of the "Confederadoes" who carved out new colonies in Brazil "are lost in a linguistic tomb because Portuguese is a barrier to entry for those seeking to explore history," explains Gary Neeleman.
He and his wife, Rose, have completed the most thorough history of that story and turned it over to a Brazilian publisher. His hope is that "Stars and Bars Under the Southern Cross: Confederate Migration to Brazil" will soon be published in English as well and be available for U.S. distribution.
I write about Neeleman, 78, and his book because, as a 40-year friend and a colleague at United Press International for half of those years, I've been struck by his perpetual zeal to evangelize on what he describes as "the spiritual link between the United States and Brazil, the two giants of the Western Hemisphere."
"It's even called the United States of Brazil and the whole constitutional structure of the nation is intentionally patterned after the U.S.," says Neeleman of his love affair with two countries. "And the Brazilian people have always viewed themselves as friends of America."
It's a spiritual cause, second only to his Mormon faith, that began when he was UPI's manager in Brazil, a country where three of his seven children were born and where one of those Brazilian born, David, has started his third airline, Azul, the fastest-growing carrier in Brazil.
The fact he had learned Portuguese as a youthful Mormon missionary prompted UPI to pluck Neeleman from Salt Lake City in the early '60s and send him to Brazil. It was there, almost 50 years ago, that he met a blond-haired blue-eyed young Brazilian woman with a soft southern accent. She was on an LDS mission at the time.
"I was sure she was probably from Georgia, but asked her where in the South she was from," Neeleman recalls. "The southern accent came through even in Portuguese and when she told me she had never been to the South, I was blown away."
Through her he learned about the Confederates in Brazil, including the Fraternity of Confederate Descendants, whose annual picnic at Campo Cemetery, between the Confederate-established towns of Americano and Santa Barbara, draws up to 1,500 people. The cemetery, which has about 1,000 Confederates graves, has a 25-foot granite obelisk, emblazoned with a Confederate flag, that lists names from Ayees to Yancee. And Americana's city crest incorporates the Confederate battle flag.
Neeleman, whose consulting clients include media companies in Brazil, Sweden and Japan, as well as the Washington Post, will be attending next month's gathering of the Confederate descendants at the cemetery.
After years of gathering historical data and personal recollections, Neeleman wrote his first book in 1985, a fictional account of the Brazilian Confederates titled "Farewell my South."
"But more than 25 years since then, having more accumulated data than any living person, I realized that if something happened to me, all my research would go with me, so Rose and I said to each other: 'let's get it done,'" Neeleman said.
The book about the Confederates is one of three he has written about Brazil and its ties to the U.S. A soon-to-be-published one deals with the ties that allowed the U.S. and its allies to tap the Amazon rubber trees as the only rubber not controlled by Japan.
"If it hadn't been for Brazilian rubber in World War II, we would not have been able to wage the war and would have lost," Neeleman said.
He recalls the year he was asked to help arrange for former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, as well as aide Jody Powell to attend the Confederate picnic and how "they sat at the cemetery, sang Dixie and all three had tears streaming down their faces."
Neeleman explained to me, "Brazil's Emperor Dom Pedro II set out to convince the Confederates to move to his country in the hope they would help establish a cotton industry in Brazil, which the Southerners proceeded to do."
Dom Pedro had offered subsidized passage and land with rich, red soil like Georgia's for 22 cents an acre. He was intent on making Brazil a major player in world agriculture, and his investment paid off.
The Confederates employed their technology and established the cotton industry, but also brought a focus on education, with the major law school and the hospital where the Neelemans' children were born established by a grandson of one of the Confederates.
"Although Brazil was a Catholic country, and Dom Pedro was Catholic, he was also a Mason and the Confederates set up Masonic lodges under his direction," Neeleman noted. "They thus legitimized the Masonic movement in Brazil."
As Neeleman wrote in the prologue to his book, "The young emperor correctly reasoned that these talented, but shattered people could rise again in a new land - his land - and while doing so, provide Brazil with much-needed technology and cultural development."
"The results of his efforts produced the only reverse migration in American history, and established a spiritual link between the two young hemispheric giants that only a very few today know exists."
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