The José Bonifácio Cultural Center has been a hub of Afro-Brazilian culture for decades. Originally constructed by order of the Emperor Dom Pedro II as part of what was known as "the Emperor's schools," it was the first public high school in Latin America. Opening its doors in 1877, the school served the port zone community which was, due to slavery, predominantly Black and poor. Slavery would not be abolished until 11 years later, in 1888.
One hundred years later, in 1977, the school was closed and converted into the Gamboa Community Library and in 1986, it became the José Bonifácio Cultural Center. The Center was renovated in 1994 and again in 2013. The space boasts 2356 square meters, 3 floors, and 18 different meeting rooms.
In 2017, the Center became one of the main sites to be considered for the proposed new Museu da Escravidão e da Liberdade (The Museum of Slavery and Liberty). Unfortunately, the new museum proposal was quite controversial. While the law was passed for the creation of the new museum, there had been no projected opening; it existed only on paper.
There were lively debates about the name of the proposed museum, given that the acronym would be MEL--the Portuguese word for "honey." A lot of Black folks didn't so much care to have a slavery museum that would be popularly known as "The Honey!" Some objected to a museum dedicated to slavery and would have much rather seen a project dedicated to African and Afro-Brazilian culture. Still others supported the idea of the project, but were opposed to the administration at that time; not being competent or appropriate for the task. Major museum projects often turn into grand white elephants through which obscene amounts of money have been known to disappear. The outcome of the proposal remained to be seen.
2021 UPDATE: The Museum of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture, with a collection of over 2500 items including paintings, sculpture and photographs, is open to the public!