“Quando o moço trouxe aos dedos palavras de uma oração com bala cravada à fonte seu corpo prostrou-se ao chão, já colocado entre as rosas vermelhas da pulsação.”
“When the young manbrought to his fingers the words of a prayer, with a bullet stuck in his head his body fell to the ground, already placed among the red roses of pulsation.”
Son of Demócrito de Souza and Maria Cristina Tasso de Souza,Demócrito de Souza Filho, a law student and martyr in the struggle for the democratisation of Brazil, became a symbol of a generation. A descendant from an illustrious family of Pernambuco, but one whof ound his best friends in the common people.
His father and his uncles, Joséde Brito Alves and Caetano Galhardo, were militant criminal lawyers, which was why Demócrito became familiar with the meaning of the words right, justice, freedom, habeas corpus and the constitution from early on.
He studied in a Catholic school and completed the pre-law course at Educandário Oswaldo Cruz. There he was taughtby the admirable teachers Amaro Quintas, Costa Porto, Moacir de Albuquerque and Waldemar Valente. He learnt to admire Voltaire with Aníbal Fernandes.
When he entered the Recife Faculty of Law in 1941, the seeds of justice and of fighting for freedom had already been planted in him. At that time, the world was going through World War II, and in Brazil, the Estado Novo (New State) ruled,a regime implemented by Getúlio Vargas after the coup of 10 November 1937. On that occasion, the President closed the Congress and decreed a new constitution. The separation of powers was abolished, civil liberties were suspended, and the member States submitted to interventors appointed by the president. The New State was characterised by being a police and censorship state, but in parallel, set new directions for the economic development of the country and assumed the position of a nation state. Demócrito was one of the brave students engaged in the struggle for the country’s re-democratisation.
The year 1944 marks the beginning of the campaign in Pernambuco for the democratisation of the country. It was born at the Recife Faculty of Law. Its starting point was an election for the presidency of the Academic Board. One so-called ‘communist’wing lost the elections to the ‘renewal’one.
Among the defeated candidateswere some students linked to people who held important positions in the administration of the New State.In their defeat,these people soon realisedthe beginning of a movement of opposition and resistance to the New State. For this reason, they manipulated the administrative machine to intimidate the academic youth.
The victory in theFaculty of Law’sacademic election led the students to create the Student Union of Pernambuco (UNE). The successful candidate for the presidency of UNE was Odilon Ribeiro Coutinho, with Jordão Emerenciano as vice-president. With the defeats suffered in student elections, the local New State noticed the students’ interactions. From then on, the lines were drawn. On one hand, the civil police of the Estado Novo, overt and active as an organ of repression. On the other, the vast majority of university students.
As the German army retreated in Africa and Europe, enthusiasm was growing among law students in their expressions of disgust at the New State. To celebrate the taking of Rome by the allied armies (1944), they held an extraordinary session in the auditorium of the Recife Faculty of Law, which would be the first public demonstration against the New State held in Pernambuco.
They accompanied the students’ every step, and some very closely, as was the case with Demócrito de Souza Filho, who always followed by a police officer known as‘Alemão’ (‘German’).
On the eve of 3March 1945, the students took refuge in the offices and in the workshops of the newspaper Diario de Pernambuco after an incident at the “Lero-Lero”restaurant, after an official portrait of Getúlio Vargas was taken down from the wall and ripped up by students Demócrito de Souza Filho and Jorge Carneiro da Cunha, who then distributed the pieces among those present.
Within minutes,Praça da Independência (Independence Square) was surrounded by civil police officers. The students were not arrested because the chief of police arrived on the scene and ordered the police to back off.
The law students had announced a rally in favour of the presidential candidacy of Eduardo Gomes in front of the Faculty for the afternoon of 3March 1945, and a march that would end in Independence Square, where they would pay a tribute to the Diario de Pernambuco, strongly alliedto the struggle for democratisation of the country.
When the members of the demonstration gathered in front of the building of the Diario de Pernambuco, student Odilon Ribeiro Coutinho began his speech praising the newspaper.
At that moment, the first firearm shots were heard in Independence Square,fired by people pretending to be part of the labour party who were among the gathering. There was panic,and much of the crowd dispersed, but later people and the students regrouped to hear orators who would speak from the balcony of the first floor of Diario. Gilberto Freyre begun to speak from one of the balconies, but his speech was interrupted by gunfire. It was then that the student Demócrito de Souza Filho stumbled backwards from the balcony and fell to the floor in the newsroom on the first level of the Diario de Pernambuco with a gunshot wound tohis forehead.
Demócrito was rushed to the hospital but died at 8:50pm on the 3 March 1945, at the old Emergency Hospital in Recife.
Recife, 26 july 2004.
(Updated on 9 september 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
ALVES, Antonio de Brito. O estudante Demócrito e a Campanha da redemocratização na Faculdade de Direito do Recife. Recife: Tipografia Marista, 1977.
FRANCA, Rubem. Monumentos do Recife. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco/ Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, 1977.
FREYRE, Gilberto. Uma campanha maior que a da Abolição. Recife, 1945. Homenagem da União dos Estudantes de Pernambuco ao seu Secretário Demócrito de Souza Filho.
GRANDE Enciclopédia Larousse Cultural. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1995.
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Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Demócrito de Souza Filho. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009