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Alceu de Deus Collares was born to João de Deus Collares and Severina T. Collares in 1927. He hails from Bagé, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which is located in the extreme southern portion of Brazil. The population of the state is comprised of mainly European immigrants. Recognizing his minority status and the overall racial prejudice against blacks in his state, Collares dubbed himself “the black from Rio Grande do Sul.” He started to work at an early age as a fruit and vegetable vendor, a telegram messenger, a luggage carrier, and a telegraph operator. After graduating in 1960 from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, he worked as an attorney specializing in tax law.

Collares's first political position was as city representative of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, in 1964. In 1970 when Brazil was under ...