Juscelino Kubitschek, one of Brazil’s great postwar presidents, was born in Diamantina in 1902 and spent the first seventeen years of his life in the town. His enduring monument is the capital city he built on the Planalto Central, Brasília, which fired Brazil’s and the world’s imagination and where his remains are interred (he was killed in a road accident in 1976). The house where he was born and his later home, Casa de Juscelino, is preserved as a shrine to his memory (Tues–Sat 8am–6pm, Sun 8am–1pm; R$2), on the steep Rua São Francisco, uphill from his statue at the bottom.
Juscelino had a meteoric political career, fuelled by his energy, imagination and uncompromising liberal instincts. You can understand his lifelong concern with the poor from the small, unpretentious house where he spent the first part of his life in poverty (Juscelino was from a poor Czech-gypsy family). Restoration has rather flattered the house, as the photos of how it was when he lived there make plain; with the exception of Lula, no Brazilian president has come from a humbler background. The photos and the simplicity of the house are very moving – a refreshing contrast to the pampered corruption of many of his successors.
Juscelino and his wife, Julia, are still sources of considerable pride for the inhabitants of the town he clearly never left in spirit. September 12, his birthday, is Diamantina’s most important festa, featuring music of all kinds performed in the town’s praças late into the night. Many of the bars still display photographs of him, largely dating from before he became president in 1956. And many still don’t believe his death was a genuine accident, just as few mineiros believe Tancredo really died of natural causes. The massive turnout for Juscelino’s funeral in Brasília in 1976 was one of the first times Brazilians dared to show their detestation of the military regime.