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Senghor, Leopold Sedar 1906—

Leopold Sedar Senghor 1906

Political leader, poet, essayist

Born into Minority Group

Was Outstanding Student

Began Writing Poetry

Formed Political Party

Became President of Senegal

Resigned as Head of Government

Selected writings

Sources

Achieving major success as a poet, politician, and intellectual, Léopold Senghor has had a truly unique identity among African leaders. His development from tribal member in Senegal, to scholar in France, to head of the government back in Senegal made him a symbol of Africas shift from colonial domination to self-determination.

Senghor was one of the architects of the philosophy of négritude, a movement established in France to raise black consciousness. He was the first black African to receive the equivalent of the American Ph. D. degree in France, as well as the first black African to be elected to the French Academy. As a poet, he generated a body of work that led to his nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Senghors poetry often reflected his problems of dual consciousness resulting from his upbringing in Senegal and education in France. In his review of Senghors The Collected Poetry in the Washington Post, K. Anthony Appiah wrote, By themselves these poems would justify giving Senghor a place in the history of our times.

Along with maintaining dual identities as an African and Frenchman, Senghor has remained active as both a poet and a politician during his long career. Janet G. Vaillant summed up Senghors life in Black, French, and African: A Life of Léopold Sédar Senghor: Just as he [Senghor] refused to choose between his talents as poet and politician, sensing that each added depth to the other, so, too, he refused to choose between his two homelands, France and Africa. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, their darkness and their light, and he loved them both.

Born into Minority Group

Senghor was one of the youngest of some two dozen children of Basile Digoye Senghor, a well-to-do peanut merchant and exporter in Senegal. Senegal at the time was a French colony and part of French West Africa. Senghors membership in the Christian Serer ethnic group made him a minority in his mostly Muslim country. His minority status made it all the more impressive that he later became head of the country. As Ellen Conroy Kennedy noted in the Washington Post, That Senghor, a Catholic in a country 85 percent Muslim, and from its smallest tribal group, succeeded in governing through

At a Glance

Born October 9, 1906, in Joal, Senegal; son of Basite Digoye (peanut merchant and exporter) and Nyilane (Bakhoume) Senghor; marriages; Ginette Eboue {divorced}; Colette Hubert; children: Francis, Guy (witti Eboue); Philippe (with Hubert). Education; University of Paris (France), Diplome dEtudes Supérieures, agrège.

Sent to a French missionary school in, 1913; entered a Catholic boarding school, 1914; won many academic prizes; entered a Roman Catholic seminary, 1923; was only African in the graduating class of the French lycée, Dakar, Senegal, 1928 enrolled in Lycée Luis-le-Grand, Paris, France, 1928; entered the Sorbonne campus of the University of Paris, 1931; began espousing theory of négritude; helped launch VEdudiant noir (The Black Student}, 1934; began writing poetry, mid-1930s; held senes of teaching posts near Paris; drafted into the French army; spent two years as a Nazi prisoner-of-war; published first collection of poetry, Chants d ombre {Shadow Songs), 1945; helped introduce Présence Africaine (African Presence), late 1940s; became part of the French Constituent Assemblies, 1945; elected to French National Assembly and General Council of Senegal, 1946; formed Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais in Sene-gai, 1948; helped draft a formal request to officially recognize the Mali Federation, 1959; became first president of independent Senegal, 1961; published Nocturnes, 1961; nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1962; sponsored Third World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, 1966; stepped down from presidency of Senegal, 1981; became a member of the Académie Française^ Dictionary Committee, 1986.

Addresses: Home 1 square de Tocqueville, 75017, Paris, France,

the first 20 difficult years of independence was in itself a triumph. Part of Senghors success story was a talent for compromise that was prevalent in his Serer tribal culture. To survive in Senegal, Senghor had to go beyond his intellectual achievements in France and call on all the shrewdness of his Serer ancestors, wrote G. Wesley Johnson in the American Historical Review.

Much of Senghors youth was spent roaming the countryside with local shepherds who taught him about Serer customs. His father did not care for this behavior, and expressed his disapproval by sending his son to a school run by French missionaries in 1913. This proved a pivotal development in Senghors life, as he proved himself to have superior academic skills. Also playing an important role in Senghors life as a child was his sister-in-law, Helene. She and Senghor had similar affections for French books and culture, as well as had similar religious views, and she helped promote his scholarly ambition.

While in the missionary school, Senghor was indoctrinated with the French colonial policy of assimilation. According to this policy, the smartest Senegalese were taught the French language and culture and were urged to support French political interests. Senghor won many academic prizes as a student. He decided to study for the priesthood and enrolled in the Roman Catholic seminary in Dakar. Senghor was then considered unfit for the priesthood after he verbally attacked the director for calling Africans savages.

Was Outstanding Student

After leaving the seminary, Senghor achieved academic distinction in the French lycée in Dakar by becoming the only African in its graduating class in 1928. This accomplishment made him famous in West Africa. His reputation was further enhanced when he won the book prize in every subject, in addition to receiving the outstanding student award. Senghors success earned him a scholarship to study in France, and in 1928 he enrolled in Lycée Luis-le-Grand in Paris. While at the Lycée he made key contacts with the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, the French Guyanan poet Léon Damas, and George Pompidou, who became the president of France in 1969. These friends helped introduce Senghor to theater music, museums, and other aspects of French culture.

Senghor entered the Sorbonne campus of the University of Paris after graduating from the Lycée in 1931. Around this time he began seriously evaluating his self-image and future in the world. He also became more sensitized to what he considered French cultural arrogance. It was a difficult time for Senghor, and he suffered bouts of depression and anxiety over his financial situation and identity. He began writing poetry as a means of grappling with his emotional distress during this troubled period.

After earning a Diplome dEtudes Supérieures degree, Senghor began working toward his graduate degree at the University of Paris. Around this time, Senghor, Césaire and other blacks began espousing their theory of négritude, which at the time was interpreted to mean that blacks had intuition superior to that of whites, while whites were better at rational thought. In 1934 Senghor was among those who launched LEdudia nt no ir (The Black Student), which communicated his ideas and those of his circle. He also helped form the Association of West African Students, whose aim was to promote African culture and embrace French culture without being absorbed into it.

Began Writing Poetry

As he began writing poetry in the mid 1930s, Senghor held a series of teaching posts at Lycées near Paris. After being drafted into the French army during World War II, he was captured by the Nazis and spent two years as a prisoner-of-war. While incarcerated he studied German and organized underground resistance movements in a number of prison camps. He was released in 1942 due to illness, then went back to teaching and continued his resistance activities.

Senghors poetry was first published in a collection called Cha ntsd om b re (Shadow Songs), which came out in 1945. French critics praised the collection. Containing poems about being torn between France and Africa, as well as ones that supported négritude, the collection made Senghor into somewhat of spokesman for people with mixed consciousness like him. His 1948 publication called Hosties noires (Black Sacrifices) contained poems that had been written by Senghor in a German prison camp and had been sneaked out of the camp to George Pompidou by a sympathetic guard. These poems dealt with public themes and historical issues, according to Vaillant. This collection strikes a militant note, she wrote. The very title Hosties noires was carefully chosen for its double meaning. It can be translated into English in two ways, either as black victims or as black hostshost in the sense of the sacrificial host of Catholic Communion. The title suggests therefore that black people have been both victims and sacrifices for European causes. Also in the late 1940s, Senghor helped introduce Présence Africaine {Africa n Prese nee), a journal that became an important voice of literary and sociopolitical thought for black intellectuals.

Formation of Senghors literary self coincided with development of his political side. In 1945 he became part of the French Constituent Assemblies, as a deputy of Senegal. The following year he was elected to the French National Assembly and General Council of Senegal. His language expertise earned him an invitation to review the accuracy and style of the French constitution drafted in 1946. A dozen years later, he was asked to help write a new French constitution.

Formed Political Party

Staking a political claim in his own country, Senghor formed the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais in Senegal in 1948. His formation of the party resulted partly from a protest against what he considered Frances lack of consideration for the interests of Africa. Senghor now realized that his vision of a free and self-directing African culture could not be realized without attention to political issues, wrote Vaillant. Senghors friends in Senegal helped gather support for the new party, and Senghor himself spent much time traveling across the country to campaign for the party after its formation. Meanwhile, he continued to retreat regularly to write poetry. In 1949 he published a small compilation of lyric love poems, Chants pour naett (Songs for Naett), and another in 1956 called Ethiopiques, which dealt with his bonds to his native Senegal.

During the 1950s Senghor made numerous speeches demanding improvements in the life of the Senegalese, while at the same time demonstrating his loyalty to France. As his frustration with Frances lack of concern for their African territories grew, he worked to establish a federation of the countrys African colonies that would provide the territories more voice for positive change. Vaillant noted, Without federation, he [Senghor] felt sure, the tiny states of West Africa would be doomed to poverty and perpetual dependence on others, probably France.

As problems with Frances African colonies escalated with the revolt in Algeria in 1955, it was clearly that France needed a new relationship with its colonies there. Senghor was appointed by the French government to investigate the problems of overseas territories. He had talks with leaders in Tunisia and Morocco that helped settle unrest there. He also urged France to allow African states to form in loose confederations. By 1956 he was stumping Senegal and calling for autonomy, stopping just short of demanding independence. I urge you to consider yourselves henceforth as in a state of legal resistance, an increasingly militant Senghor told a meeting of members of a political party he helped to create in Senegal, the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise, according to Vaillant

Became President of Senegal

Senegal was thwarted in his hopes when the new French constitution in 1958 gave only limited autonomy to the territories. Although he agreed to support the document, it added to his dissatisfaction with France as overseer of his homeland and fueled his efforts to create a federation. In 1959 he helped formulate a formal request to officially recognize the Mali Federation, a union of Senegal with the Sudanese Republic (now Mali). Although permission to form the union was granted, disagreements led to Senegals withdrawal the next year. Senegal then drafted its own constitution, and Senghor was elected its first president in 1961.

As president, Senghor made economic development his top priority. However, problems arose due to disagreements between him and his prime minister, Mamadou Dia, a close friend. Senghor supported a tight relationship with France, while Dia wanted to sever these ties. Escalation of the two mens differences led Dia to attempt a coup detat in 1962, which was crushed by Senghor. Dia was then convicted to a life sentence in prison. Senghor used this opportunity to make the prime minister part of his own position, and through his presidency continued fostering his relationship with France. He also strove to build cultural exchanges between African nations.

Despite his early promotion of democracy, Senghor became more authoritarian as head of the Senegalese government through the 1960s. In the middle of the decade he declared all parties other than his own illegal. He also helped sidestep potential criticisms by hiring his critics for prestigious government posts. This system of patronage proliferated the bureaucracy and led to a great waste of government funds in a country that could ill afford it.

Political office did not deter Senghor from his poetry writing, and in 1961 he published an acclaimed collection called Nocturnes. The following year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in honor of his esteemed body of work. Senghor tried to stir up support for his policies by promoting his philosophy of négritude through his writings and by sponsoring events such as the Third World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1966, but his attempts largely did not succeed. His focus on cultural matters also had an adverse effect on the economy, and by 1970 economic growth was slowing. During his term the country became too dependent on the export of peanuts, and a major drought that hurt the harvest became an economic nightmare for the country. Convinced as he was that Senegals economic problems would yield to technology and modern planning, Senghor was slow to see poor performance as a reason to rethink his entire strategy, wrote Vaillant.

Numerous coups were attempted and thwarted during Senghors term in power. As his support was eroded due to widespread hardship, Senghor responded by shifting away from his authoritarian stance. He re-established the position of prime minister, allowed the existence of competing political parties again, and voiced his support for freedom of the press. Senghor also released Dia and other political prisoners.

Resigned as Head of Government

In 1981 Senghor became the first African chief of government to peaceably step down from power and pass the torch to someone else. He felt at the time that he would not live to see the country he had dreamed of in Senegal. In the morning when I awake, he wrote, according to Vaillant, I feel all the world that weighs on me . . . [but] when I open the window and see the sun rising over Gorée, over the island of slavery, I say to myself, all the same, since the end of the slave trade, we have made progress.

In 1986 Senghor became a member of the Académie Francaises Dictionary Committee to make sure that new words and expressions from Francophone territories would be incorporated into the academys dictionary. After moving to France following his retirement from political office, Senghor focused more on writing, traveled widely, and became president of an international authors rights organization. Leaders throughout the world have often turned to him for advice due to his achievement in helping Senegal gain its independence.

Selected writings

Songs for Naeett, 1949.

Ethiopiques, 1956.

Nocturnes, 1961.

The Collected Poetry, 1992.

Sources

Books

Baudet, Henri, Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man, Yale University Press, 1965.

Buell, Raymond Leslie, The Nati ve Problem in Africa, Macmillan, 1928.

Hymans, Jacque Louis, Leopold Sedar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography, Edinburgh University Press, 1971.

Johnson, G. Wesley, The Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal, Stanford University Press, 1971.

Mortimer, Edward, France and the Africans, 19441960, Faver, 1969.

Vaillant, Janet G., Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor, Harvard University Press, 1990.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1990, pp. C3, C5.

Macleans, May 29, 1989, p. 17.

New York Review of Books, December 20,1990, pp. 1121.

New York Times Book Review, October 21,1990, p. 7.

Researches in African Literature, Fall 1990, pp. 5157.

Washington Post Book World, November 11,1990, pp. 1, 14; July 5, 1992, p. 1.

Ed Decker

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Senghor, Léopold Sédar 1906–2001

Léopold Sédar Senghor 1906–2001

President, poet, essayist

Achieving major success as a poet, politician, and intellectual, Léopold Sédar Senghor had a unique identity among African leaders. His development from tribal member in Senegal to scholar in France and then head of the Senegalese government made him a symbol of Africa's shift from colonialism to self-determination.

Senghor was one of the architects of the philosophy of négritude, a movement established in France to raise black consciousness. He was the first black African to receive the equivalent of the American PhD degree in France, as well as the first black African to be elected to the French Academy. As a poet, he generated a body of work that led to his nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Senghor's poetry often reflected the dual consciousness resulting from his upbringing in Senegal and education in France. In his review of Senghor's The Collected Poetry (1991), K. Anthony Appiah wrote in the Washington Post Book World, “By themselves these poems would justify giving Senghor a place in the history of our times.”

Along with maintaining dual identities as an African and a Frenchman, Senghor remained active as both a poet and a politician during his long career. Janet G. Vaillant summed up Senghor's life in Black, French, and African: A Life of Léopold Sédar Senghor (1990): “Just as [Senghor] refused to choose between his talents as poet and politician, sensing that each added depth to the other, so, too, he refused to choose between his two homelands, France and Africa. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, their darkness and their light, and he loved them both.”

Grew up As a Catholic Minority

Senghor was one of the youngest of some two dozen children of Basile Digoye Senghor, a well-to-do peanut merchant and exporter in Senegal. At that time, Senegal was a French colony and part of French West Africa. Senghor's membership in the Christian Serer ethnic group made him a minority in his mostly Muslim country. As Ellen Conroy Kennedy noted in the Washington Post Book World, “That Senghor, a Catholic in a country 85 percent Muslim, and from its smallest tribal group, succeeded in governing through the first 20 difficult years of independence was in itself a triumph.” Part of Senghor's success story was a talent for compromise that was prevalent in his Serer tribal culture. “To survive in Senegal, Senghor had to go beyond his intellectual achievements in France and call on all the shrewdness of his Serer ancestors,” wrote American Historical Review's G. Wesley Johnson in his review of Vaillant's book.

Much of Senghor's youth was spent roaming the countryside with local shepherds who taught him about Serer customs. His father expressed his disapproval by sending Senghor to a school run by French missionaries in 1913. This proved a pivotal development in Senghor's life, because the school allowed him to discover his superior academic skills. Also playing an important role in Senghor's life as a child was his sister-in-law, Helene. She and Senghor had similar religious views and affection for French books and culture, and she helped promote his scholarly ambitions.

While in the missionary school, Senghor was indoctrinated in the French colonial policy of assimilation. According to this policy, the smartest Senegalese were taught the French language and culture and were urged to support French political interests. Senghor won many academic prizes as a student. He decided to study for the priesthood and enrolled in the Roman Catholic seminary in Dakar. However, he was eventually considered unfit for the priesthood when he verbally attacked the director of the seminary for calling Africans “savages.”

Studied in France

After leaving the seminary, Senghor achieved academic distinction in the French Lycee in Dakar by becoming the only African in its graduating class in 1928. In addition, Senghor won the book prize in every subject and was granted the outstanding student award. His success made him famous in West Africa and earned him a scholarship to study in France, and in 1928 he enrolled in Lycee Luis-le-Grand in Paris. While at the Lycee, he made key contacts with Martinican poet Aime Cesaire, French Guianese poet Leon-Gontran Damas, and Georges Pompidou, who became the president of France in 1969. These friends helped introduce Senghor to theater music, museums, and other aspects of French culture.

Senghor entered the Sorbonne campus of the University of Paris after graduating from the Lycee in 1931. Around this time he began evaluating his self-image and future in the world. He also became more sensitive to what he considered French “cultural arrogance.” It was a difficult time for Senghor, and he suffered bouts of depression and anxiety over his financial situation and identity. He began writing poetry as a means of grappling with his emotional distress during this troubled period.

After earning a Diplome d'Etudes Superieures degree, Senghor began working toward his graduate degree at the University of Paris. Around this time, Senghor, Cesaire, and other blacks began espousing their theory of négritude, which at the time was interpreted to mean that blacks had intuition superior to that of whites, whereas whites were better at rational thought. In 1934 Senghor was among those who launched the journal L'Edudiant Noir ( The Black Student), which communicated his ideas and those of his circle. He also helped form the Association of West African Students, whose aim was to promote African culture and embrace French culture without being absorbed into it.

Senghor began writing poetry in the mid-1930s while holding a series of teaching posts at Lycees near Paris. He was drafted into the French army during World War II, which led to his eventual capture by the Germans. While incarcerated, he studied German and organized underground resistance movements in prison camps. He was released in 1942 due to illness, then went back to teaching and continued his resistance activities.

At a Glance …

Born on October 9, 1906, in Joal, Senegal; died on December 20, 2001, in Normandy, France; son of Basile Digoye and Nyilane (Bakhoume) Senghor; married Ginette Eboue (divorced); married Colette Hubert; children: (with Eboue) Francis, Guy, (with Hubert) Philippe. Education: University of Paris, Diplome d'Etudes Superieures, agrege.

Career: Began writing poetry, mid-1930s; L'Edudiant Noir, cofounder, 1934; Presence Africaine, cofounder, late 1940s; became part of the French Constituent Assemblies, 1945; elected to French National Assembly and General Council of Senegal, 1946; formed Bloc Democratique Senegalais in Senegal, 1948; helped draft a formal request to officially recognize the Mali Federation, 1959; president of Senegal, 1961-81; nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1962; sponsored Third World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, 1966; became a member of the Academie Francaise's Dictionary Committee, 1986.

Became Involved in Poetry and Politics

Senghor's poetry was first published in a collection called Chants d'ombre ( Shadow Songs) in 1945. French critics praised the collection. Containing poems about being torn between France and Africa, as well as ones that supported négritude, the collection made Senghor into somewhat of a spokesman for people with mixed consciousness like himself. A 1948 publication, Hosties noires ( Black Sacrifices), contained poems that Senghor wrote while he was in a German prison camp and which had been sneaked out of the camp to Pompidou by a sympathetic guard. “This collection strikes a militant note,” Vaillant wrote. “The very title Hosties noires was carefully chosen for its double meaning. It can be translated into English in two ways, either as ‘black victims’ or as ‘black hosts’—host in the sense of the sacrificial host of Catholic Communion. The title suggests therefore that black people have been both victims and sacrifices for European causes.” Also in the late 1940s, Senghor helped introduce Presence Africaine ( African Presence), a journal that became an important voice of literary and sociopolitical thought for black intellectuals.

The formation of Senghor's literary self coincided with the development of his political side. He became part of the French Constituent Assemblies as a deputy of Senegal in 1945. The following year he was elected to the French National Assembly and General Council of Senegal. His language expertise earned him an invitation to review the style and accuracy of the French constitution that was drafted in 1946. A dozen years later, he was asked to help write a new French constitution.

Staking a political claim in his own country, Senghor formed the Bloc Democratique Senegalais in Senegal in 1948. His formation of the party resulted partly from a protest against what he considered France's lack of consideration for the interests of Africa. “Senghor now realized that his vision of a free and self-directing African culture could not be realized without attention to political issues,” wrote Vaillant. Senghor's friends in Senegal helped gather support for the new party, and Senghor himself spent time traveling across the country to campaign for the party after its formation. Meanwhile, he continued to write poetry. In 1949 he published Chants pour Naëtt ( Songs for Naëtt), a small compilation of lyric love poems, and in 1956 he published Éthiopiques: Poèmes, which dealt with his bonds to his native Senegal.

During the 1950s Senghor made numerous speeches demanding improvements in the life of the Senegalese, while at the same time demonstrating his loyalty to France. As his frustration with France's lack of concern for its African territories grew, he worked to establish a federation of French African colonies that would provide the territories more voice for positive change. Vaillant noted, “Without federation, [Senghor] felt sure [that] the tiny states of West Africa would be doomed to poverty and perpetual dependence on others, probably France.”

After the French colony of Algeria revolted in 1955, the French government recognized that it needed a new relationship with its colonies. Senghor was appointed by the French government to investigate the problems of overseas territories. He held talks with Tunisian and Moroccan leaders that helped settle unrest there. He also urged France to allow African states to form in loose confederations. By 1956 he was stumping Senegal and calling for autonomy, stopping just short of demanding independence. “I urge you to consider yourselves henceforth as in a state of legal resistance,” an increasingly militant Senghor told a meeting of members of a political party he helped create in Senegal, the Union Progressiste Senegalaise, according to Vaillant.

Elected the First President of Senegal

Senghor was thwarted in his hopes when the new French constitution in 1958 gave only limited autonomy to the territories. Although he agreed to support the document, it added to his dissatisfaction with France as the overseer of his homeland and fueled his efforts to create a federation. In 1959 he helped formulate a request that France officially recognize the Mali Federation, a union of Senegal with the Sudanese Republic (now Mali). Permission to form the union was granted, but disagreements led to Senegal's withdrawal the following year. Senegal then drafted its own constitution, and Senghor was elected its first president in 1961.

As president, Senghor made economic development his top priority. However, problems arose due to disagreements between him and his prime minister, Mamadou Dia, a close friend. Senghor supported a tight relationship with France, whereas Dia wanted to sever those ties. Escalation of the two men's differences led Dia to attempt a coup d'état in 1962, which was crushed by Senghor. Dia was then convicted to a life sentence in prison. Senghor used this opportunity to make the prime minister's role part of his own position, and he continued to foster a relationship with France. He also strove to build cultural exchanges between African nations.

Despite his early promotion of democracy, Senghor became more authoritarian during the 1960s. In the middle of the decade he declared that all parties other than his own were illegal. He also helped sidestep potential criticism by placing his critics in prestigious government posts. This system of patronage proliferated the bureaucracy and led to a great waste of government funds in a country that could barely afford it.

Political office did not deter Senghor from his poetry writing. In 1961 he published the acclaimed collection Nocturnes: Poèmes. The following year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in honor of his esteemed body of work. Senghor tried to stir up support for his policies by promoting his philosophy of négritude through his writings and by sponsoring events such as the Third World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1966, but his attempts largely failed. His focus on cultural matters also had an adverse effect on the economy, and by 1970 economic growth was slowing. During his term the country became too dependent on the export of peanuts, and when a major drought devastated the harvest, the country faced an economic nightmare. Vaillant noted, “Convinced as he was that Senegal's economic problems would yield to technology and modern planning, Senghor was slow to see poor performance as a reason to rethink his entire strategy.”

Numerous coups were thwarted during Senghor's term in power. As his support was eroded due to widespread hardship, Senghor responded by shifting away from his authoritarian stance. He reestablished the position of prime minister, allowed the existence of competing political parties, and voiced his support for freedom of the press. Senghor also released Dia and several other political prisoners.

Stepped down As Head of Government

In 1981 Senghor became the first African chief of government to peaceably step down from power and pass the torch to someone else. In 1986 he became a member of the Academie Francaise's Dictionary Committee to make certain that new words and expressions from Francophone territories would be incorporated into the academy's dictionary. After moving to France following his retirement from political office, Senghor focused more on writing, traveled widely, and became president of an international authors‧ rights organization.

During the final years of his life, Senghor lived in Normandy, France, where he worked with the Academie Francaise as both a consultant and a writer. He passed away on December 20, 2001, in his home. He had been struggling with invasive cancer throughout the 1990s but managed to avoid serious complications until shortly before his death. A number of French and African politicians attended his memorial service, which was held in Dakar on December 29. French president Jacques Chirac did not attend the funeral but said in an official press statement, “Poetry has lost one of its masters, Senegal a statesman, Africa a visionary and France a friend.” Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade declared fifteen days of national mourning and described Senghor as “a poet who understood the universe but remained deeply attached to the natural values of the black world.”

Through his varied accomplishments, both literary and political, Senghor established himself as one of the great leaders of the twentieth century. He helped Senegal to become one of Africa's strongest democratic systems, and he left his mark on the country as one of its greatest visionaries, artists, and intellectual leaders.

Selected writings

Chants d'ombre, Éditions du Seuil, 1945.

Chants pour Naëtt, P. Seghers, 1949.

Éthiopiques: Poèmes, Éditions du Seuil, 1956.

Nocturnes: Poèmes, Éditions du Seuil, 1961.

The Collected Poetry, University Press of Virginia, 1991.

Sources

Books

Baudet, Henri, Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man, Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

Buell, Raymond Leslie, The Native Problem in Africa, Archon Books, 1965.

Hymans, Jacque Louis, Léopold Sédar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography, Edinburgh University Press, 1971.

Johnson, G. Wesley, The Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal: The Struggle for Power in the Four Communes, 1900-1920, Stanford University Press, 1971.

Mortimer, Edward, France and the Africans, 1944-1960: A Political History, Walker, 1969.

Vaillant, Janet G., Black, French, and African: A Life of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Harvard University Press, 1990.

Periodicals

American Historical Review, Vol. 97, No. 1, February 1992.

Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1990.

MacLean's, May 29, 1989, p. 17.

New York Review of Books, December 20, 1990.

New York Times, December 21, 2001.

New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1990.

Researches in African Literature, fall 1990.

Washington Post Book World, November 11, 1990; July 5, 1992.

Online

“Africa Mourns Senegal's Senghor,” BBC News Online,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1725044.stm (accessed January 29, 2008).

—Ed Decker and Micah L. Issitt

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Léopold Sédar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor (born 1906) was an African poet, philosopher, and president of Senegal. He was one of the originators of "Negritude," a "black is beautiful" doctrine begun in Paris during the 1930s.

The map of Africa as it exists today owes something to the efforts of Léopold Senghor who took a leading role in the negotiations that led to independence of France's sub-Saharan colonies. He established relations with the former mother country that endure to this day. While asserting the uniqueness and greatness of black culture, the equal in every respect to that of the Greeks and the French, he held out the promise of an eventual synthesis of diverse peoples' contributions to a coming great "civilization of the universal."

Senghor was born on October 9, 1906, at Joal, the son of a wealthy Catholic trader who descended from a Serer royal family. Raised as a Catholic among an overwhelmingly Moslem population, Senghor attended the school of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost at N'Gazobil in 1914 and went on to pursue his studies in Dakar until 1928, when he left for France. In Paris he was the first African to be awarded an agregation certificate, in 1935, qualifying him to teach at a lycee, which he did from 1936 to the outbreak of the war, first in Tours and then in Paris. Captured while fighting against the Germans in 1940, he organized a resistance among his fellow prisoners.

Political Career

After the war, Africa's representation in the French National Assembly was greatly increased, and opportunities for indigenous political activity were expanded. In 1945 Senghor joined with Lamine Gueye in cofounding a new political party affiliated with the French Socialist party, the Bloc Africain, which appealed to newly enfranchised people in the rural areas. In the same year, and again in 1946, the people of Senegal elected Senghor as deputy to the French National Assembly. In 1946 he was also selected the official grammarian for the new constitution of the Fourth Republic.

Senghor's alliance with Lamine Gueye soon grew thin, as Senghor turned to cultivate his rural following and as he rejected Gueye's assimilation politics. In 1948 Senghor formed his own political party and rejected affiliation with all metropolitan organizations. In 1951 his organization won both seats to the National Assembly. Senghor's proposal in 1953 that the French government divide French West Africa into two federations, one with its capital at Dakar in Senegal and the other at Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, was defeated. This defeat, as Senghor predicted, meant the "Balkanization" of West Africa, the creation of many small, not really economically viable, political units.

Senghor served as a minister in the Edgar Faure government in 1955; the following year Senghor's group, for the final time, won the elections to the National Assembly and then won 47 out of 60 seats in the newly established territorial council of Senegal. A division occurred among African leaders over the value of these councils, for some saw them as a positive step toward self-government, but others (Senghor foremost among them) argued that what counted was the unity of the region as a whole and that "territorialization" would only make this task more difficult.

Unlike the modernizing Africans in the British colonies, Senghor also argued that "mere political independence" could be a sham and therefore was not necessarily the highest goal African peoples should seek. Economic and technological realities in his day meant that even the "super powers" could not go it alone; what chance then for Senegal by itself? Not surprisingly, in 1958, when the new DeGaulle government offered the territories of West Africa the chance to "opt for independence" in a referendum—on the understanding that all financial and technical aid would be immediately withdrawn—Senghor, in spite of much domestic opposition, campaigned against this type of "self-government." Senegal joined the Sudanese Republic in 1959 to form the short-lived Mali Federation. Finally, on Aug. 20, 1960, Senegal became independent but remained part of a reconstituted "French community."

Thereafter Senghor survived several attempted coups d'etat, the most serious occurring in 1962, at least one assassination effort (1967), and widespread riots and demonstrations against rising prices and government financial policies (1968 and 1969). Nevertheless, throughout all these developments, he maintained his position as president of the republic and head of the governing political party while absorbing the major organized opposition groups and appeasing the central elements of his own coalition.

Negritude and Socialism

The evolution of Senghor's doctrine occurred in three distinct periods—the era preceding World War II, the period of achieving independence, and the epoch following independence. Senghor argued that the work of the black has distinction not in substance or subject matter but, rather, in a special approach, method, and style. In the pre-World War II period, Senghor particularly argued that one must look for the black person's uniqueness in the person himself. "Negritude" arises first, then, from the singular racial characteristics of the black. Later, after the war, Senghor became caught up in the problem of reorganizing societies—in Europe after fascism, in Africa after colonialism.

Revolted by Nazism, he placed increasing emphasis in his theory of Negritude on the historical context of the black evolution as an explanation for the rise of unique civilizations. Socialism he viewed as a way toward a renewed humanism through the ending of exploitation. Revolutionary change in France and the West as well as in the developing areas would allow a new type of community to be created. After independence in 1960, Senghor turned increasingly to the day-to-day problems of building a viable economy.

Significantly, Senghor used the term Senegalese socialism for the first time early in 1962. His ideas and ideology became increasingly pragmatic and technocratic as he attempted to maximize the effectiveness of modern agricultural methods, capital, industry, and social engineering.

Senghor resigned in 1981 after 20 years of being president. He devoted much of time afterwards to developing and publishing his philosophical contributions to the realization of a single, planetary civilization.

His Writings

The year 1945 marked not only Senghor's entry into political life but also the publication of his first collection of poems, Chants d'ombre. In 1948 he published another volume of poetry, Hosties noires, and edited an anthology of new Negro and Malagasy poetry. Later poetic offerings were Chants pour Naëtt (1949), Éthiopiques (1956), and Nocturnes (1961).

Senghor's major prose works were Nation et voie africaine du socialisme (1961), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine (1962), LibertéI:Négritude et humanisme (1964), Les Fondements de I'Africanitéou Négritude et Arabité (1967), and Politique, nation et developpement moderne (1968).

Further Reading

A substantial collection of Senghor's poetry is in Selected Poems, translated and introduced by John Reed and Clive Wake (1964). Several of Senghor's major political writings were translated by Mercer Cook in On African Socialism (1964). Irving Leonard Markovitz, Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Politics of Negritude (1969), which has an exhaustive bibliography, traces the development of Senghor's ideas from 1931 and views them within the changing social, political, and historical scene of French colonialism and African development. See also Michael Crowder, Senegal: A Study in French Assimilation Policy (1962), for a good general treatment of the historical background. □

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Senghor, Léopold Sédar

Léopold Sédar Senghor (lāôpôld´ sādär´ säNgôr´), 1906–2001, African statesman and poet; president (1960–80) of the Republic of Senegal, b. Joal. The son of a prosperous landowner, Senghor was extraordinarily gifted in literature and won a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in Paris (grad. 1935). There he met fellow writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, with whom he formulated the concept of négritude, which asserted the importance of their African heritage (see also African literature). He became a French teacher, served in an all-African unit of the French army in World War II, and after the war represented Senegal (1945–58) in the French legislature. He then held a series of offices in Senegal and became one of the founders of the African Regroupement party. Senghor was president of the legislative assembly in the Mali Federation (1959) and, when Senegal withdrew from the federation (1960), he became president of the newly formed Republic of Senegal.

Senghor continued to work for African unity, and, in 1974, Senegal joined six other nations in the West African Economic Community. He was reelected president in 1963, 1968, and 1973, remaining in office until his retirement in 1980. He lived in Normandy for most of the rest of his life. A distinguished intellectual and champion of African culture, he wrote numerous volumes of poetry and essays in French, including Chants d'Ombre (1945), written while he was interned in a Nazi prison camp; Hosties noires (1948); Chants pour Naëtt (1949); and Éthiopiques (1956). At the head of his many poems, Senghor indicates the musical instruments that should accompany them, illustrating his belief that the poems should become songs to be complete. Among his works in English translation are On African Socialism (1964) and Selected Poems (1964). In 1984 he became the first black member of the French Academy.

See biographies by I. L. Markovitz (1969), J. L. Hymans (1972), J. S. Spleth (1985), and J. G. Vaillant (1990); studies by M. B. Melady (1971), S. W. Bâ (1973), S. O. Mezu (1973), J. S. Spleth, ed. (1993), and W. Kluback (1997).

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Senghor, Léopold Sédar

Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1906–2001) Senegalese statesman and poet. He was the first president (1960–80) of the republic of Senegal. As president, he led (1974) Senegal into the West African Economic Community. His poetry, such as Songs of the Shade (1945), is intended for voice with musical accompaniment. Senghor was the first African to be elected to the Académie Française (1984).

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Senghor, Léopold Sédar

Léopold Sédar Senghor

BORN: 1906, Joal, Senegal (French West Africa)

DIED: 2001, Normandy, France

NATIONALITY: Senegalese, French

GENRE: Poetry, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Songs of Shadow (1945)
Black Hosts (1948)
Ethiopiques (1956)
Nocturnes (1961)

Overview

Léopold Sédar Senghor served as president of the Republic of Senegal for twenty years following its independence from France in 1960. This popular statesman was also an accomplished poet and essayist whose work, written in French, affirms the rich traditions of his African heritage. Along with Aimé Césaire, he is best known for developing “negritude,” a wide-ranging movement that influenced black culture worldwide. As the chief proponent of negritude, Senghor is credited with contributing to Africa's progress toward independence from colonial rule, and he is considered one of the most important African thinkers of the twentieth century. His career represents the successful fusion of apparent opposites: politics and poetics, intellectual and folk traditions, and African and European culture.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Education and Negritude Senghor was born October 9, 1906, in the predominantly Islamic province of Joal, in what was then French West Africa. Raised as a Roman Catholic, he attended French missionary schools in preparation for the priesthood. At the age of twenty, he abandoned religious studies for a European education at a French secondary school in Dakar. Upon his

graduation in 1928, he earned a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne in France.

Senghor received an elite education amid the intellectual scene of Paris. He met the West Indian writers Aimé Césaire and Leon Gontran Damas, who introduced him to African American literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Senghor came to recognize the impact of African expression on modern European art, especially in music and the visual arts. With Césaire and Damas, Senghor launched The Black Student, a cultural journal.

In the early 1930s, Senghor, Césaire, and Damas began to speak of “negritude,” a term coined by Césaire to give a positive connotation to a word often used as a racial slur. Senghor credits Jamaican poet and novelist Claude McKay with having supplied the values promoted by the new movement: to seek out the roots of the black experience and to rehabilitate black culture in the eyes of the world. For Senghor, negritude exalted the intuitive and artistic nature of the African psyche, qualities that white Europeans masked with reason and intellect.

Senghor became the first black African to graduate from the Sorbonne with a grammar aggregation, the highest degree granted in French education, and he began teaching in Parisian schools. As fascism and racial prejudice swept through Europe in the 1930s, Senghor angrily rejected European culture, but he soon softened his position.

Poetry in Wartime The poems Senghor wrote in the late 1930s were published after World War II in the collection Songs of Shadow. Although largely traditional in structure and meter, these pieces evoke the intricate rhythmic patterns of songs from Senghor's native village. These poems express Senghor's nostalgia for Africa, his feelings of exile and cultural alienation, and his native culture's sense of dignity. The poems also lament the destruction of African culture under colonial rule.

When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Senghor was immediately drafted to protect France as an infantryman at the German border. France fell to the German assault in June 1940, the same month Senghor was captured and taken prisoner. He spent two years in the Nazi camps and wrote some of his finest poems during that time. These poems later formed the core of Senghor's second published collection, Black Hosts.

Black Hosts explores the poet's sense of unity with blacks as an exploited race, and especially with other blacks fighting for Europe, such as those from the United States and the West Indies. The poems “Prayer for the Tirailleurs of Senegal” and “Despair of a Free Volunteer” celebrate the humility and endurance of Senegalese soldiers, whose battlefield experiences Senghor equates with the sufferings of their ancestors under colonialism.

Overlapping Political and Literary Careers After his release in 1942, Senghor resumed teaching in suburban Paris and joined the Resistance movement. He became dean of linguistics at the National School of Overseas France. After the war, he was elected as a Senegalese representative in the French National Assembly. He founded the Senegalese Democratic Bloc (BDS) in 1948. With a socialist platform and a strong base among the peasants, this party rose to dominance in Senegalese politics. Senghor was reelected to the assembly in 1951, and again in 1956. That year, he became the mayor of the Senegalese city of Thies.

During this time, Senghor continued his literary pursuits as well. In 1947, he cofounded the literary journal African Presence, which became a powerful vehicle for black writing worldwide. The following year, he edited a book with a powerful introduction by French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre that became a manifesto of the negritude movement: an anthology of French-language poetry from the black diaspora—a scattering of people with a common origin or background.

A collection of poems Senghor had been working on since 1948 was published as Ethiopiques in 1956. These poems reflect Senghor's growing political involvement and his struggle to reconcile European and African allegiances. One long poem in Ethiopiques, “Chaka,” is a dramatic adaptation of Thomas Mofolo's historical novel about a Zulu warrior king of the nineteenth century. In reality, Chaka was a ruthless killer and a tyrant; Senghor, however, is less interested in the leader's exploits than in his state of mind.

The Poet-President As Algeria battled French forces for independence in the late 1950s, the colonies of French West Africa also pressed for freedom from their colonial rulers. Senghor advocated a path toward national or federal governments for African states. Although he helped bring several territories together into the Mali Federation in 1959, this structure did not last long. Senegal became an independent republic in 1960, and Senghor was elected its first president.

During Senghor's years in power, Senegal enjoyed relative political stability. Senghor survived an attempted coup d'état staged in 1962 by his rival, prime minister Mamador Dia, and afterward Senegal rewrote its constitution to give the president more power. He was reelected in 1968 and 1973, and resigned in 1980, before the end of his fifth term. No previous African president had voluntarily left office.

After 1960 Senghor mainly wrote political prose, especially that promoting African democratic socialism. He wrote a series of five books on political theory under the omnibus title Liberty. Poems Senghor wrote before his election as president of Senegal were published in 1961 as Nocturnes. This collection discusses the nature of poetry and the role of the poet in contemporary society. Nocturnes also reprints in its entirety Senghor's previously published volume Songs for Naett, a series of lyrical love poems written to a woman who represents the African landscape. In 1964, Senghor's most significant verse became available in English translation.

Later Career After retiring from Senegalese politics, Senghor divided his time between Paris, Normandy, and Dakar. He continued writing poetry, and he penned a memoir, What I Believe: Negritude, Frenchness, and Universal Civilization (1988). He died in Normandy in 2001.

Works in Literary Context

During his years as a student, first in French West Africa and later in Paris, Senghor read widely in the canon of French literature. Some authors whose influence is apparent in Senghor's poetry include Arthur Rimbaud, the surrealist André Breton, the Catholic poet Paul Claudel, and Saint-John Perse, winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize for Literature. Not coincidentally, both Claudel and Perse were professional diplomats whose work reflects an immersion in the social currents of the world beyond European shores.

However, it was Senghor's exposure to the African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance—writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, W. E. B. DuBois, and Zora Neale Hurston—that helped him find his voice as a modern African. In Paris, Senghor was exposed to political movements such as socialism and humanism, ideologies that are apparent throughout his literary and political work.

Voice of His People Senghor has said that his poetry bears a kinship to folk poetry, yet his work is also very clearly the result of a modern, cosmopolitan sensibility. No tradition of modernist African poetry—certainly not in French—existed when Senghor began his career. He drew on his African heritage and European education to forge something new. Under the French colonial policy of assimilation, Senghor's advanced French education placed him in a position of potential leadership among his people. Senghor's poetry and his development of the theory of negritude represent cultural and intellectual leadership, which led to his political achievements.

Other men of letters have entered the political arena, such as the Czech playwright Vaclàv Havel and the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Senghor's career is exceptional in that the poet and the politician are nearly impossible to separate. Even in his early work, there is little distinction between the personal and public aspects of his expression. Poems that explore the tension between the Africa of his youth and his later experience in the colonial center reveal a deep awareness of the broader forces involved. Quite easily, a reader can discern that the poet aspires to speak for his people as a whole. This type of representation, even in work with no explicitly political content, became more palpable in Senghor's poetry as his political profile grew.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Senghor's famous contemporaries include:

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980): A French author and philosopher known for his existentialist works.

Albert Camus (1913–1960): A French-Algerian existentialist author and philosopher. Camus was the first African-born winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973): Chilean poet and diplomat who won a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Richard Wright (1908–1960): African American novelist and essayist who immigrated to Paris.

James Baldwin (1924–1987): African American novelist, essayist, and activist who immigrated to Paris.

Julius Nyerere (1922–1999): The first president of Tanzania (1964–1985).

Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970): A French military leader during World War II, de Gaulle served as president of France from 1959 to 1969.

Negritude and Black Consciousness Aside from his achievements as president of Senegal, Senghor's most enduring contribution is probably the theory of negritude with which he is associated. Launched as a creative response to French colonialism, negritude provided a basis for proclaiming a cultural commonality throughout the African diaspora. Under the mantle of negritude, new generations of black artists in Africa, Europe, and the Americas transcended the limitations that European traditions and norms had placed on their expression. Influenced itself by the creative fervor of the Harlem Renaissance, negritude is an important precursor to Afrocentricity and other movements in black culture.

Works in Critical Context

For all its influence, the theory of negritude, as articulated by Senghor, has attracted considerable criticism. Some intellectuals have condemned its emphasis on skin color as the single basis of cultural distinctions. Many take issue with its simplistic, somewhat stereotypical formulations, such as the claim that European reasoning is analytical and African reasoning is intuitive. Examining Senghor's theoretical prose, some critics detect an unspoken acceptance of certain assumptions of European superiority.

Biographers and commentators on Senghor, such as Sebastian Okechuwu Mezu, have noted the close connection of his poetic and political identities, often assessing the former through the lens of the latter. As for Senghor's literary style, it has been characterized as serenely and resonantly rhetorical. While the lush sensuality of his verse has many admirers, there are those who view his efforts to reconcile African and Western cultural idioms as only partly successful. Some scholars detect a lack of dramatic tension in Senghor's poetry. Instead of conforming to European styles of narrative verse, his is a poetry of affirmation rather than explanation, declaration rather than argumentation, and celebration rather than observation.

Many critics, such as his principal English translators, John Reed and Clive Wake, compare Senghor to the nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman. Using intensely rhythmic free verse, each of these writers looked deep within themselves to capture and communicate the experience of a people giving birth to a new nation.

Responses to Literature

  1. Research the French colonial policy of assimilation, in which colonial subjects were encouraged to abandon their native languages and adopt French culture and customs. How does the life of Senghor represent the impact of this policy?
  2. Reading Songs of Shadow and Black Hosts, what hints and evidence do you find that their author would assume a position of political leadership?
  3. compare and contrast the poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor and Walt Whitman.
  4. Read the essay “Black Orpheus” written by Jean-Paul Sartre to introduce Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in French, the book of black poetry that Senghor edited. Citing Sartre's essay, explain the relationship between postwar French intellectual culture and the negritude movement.
  5. Assessing Senghor's controversial poem “Chaka” from Ethiopiques, determine how the poem reflects its author's attitudes toward the acquisition and use of political power. Keep in mind that the real Chaka was a ruthless killer and tyrant. To what extent do you think Senghor depended on Thomas Mofolo's historical novel about a Zulu warrior king of the nineteenth century?

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Senghor's most well known book is probably the Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in French, which became a touchstone of the negritude phenomenon. Here are other landmark literary anthologies that brought attention to emerging social movements:

The New Negro (1925), an anthology edited by AlainLocke. Known as the Harlem Renaissance, the flowering of African American art and literature in the 1920s is brilliantly displayed in this collection.

Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro American Writing (1968), an anthology edited by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal. This anthology of essays, poems, and short stories captures the aesthetic component of the Black Power movement of the 1960s.

Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970), an anthology edited by Robin Morgan. This anthology is one of the first widely available publications from the Second Wave of the women's movement.

This Bridge Called My Back (1981), an anthology edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. Moraga and Anzaldua have selected an influential collection of writing “by radical women of color.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Blair, Dorothy S. African Literature in French. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Collins, Grace. Man of Destiny: Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal. Mt. Airty, Md.: Sights, 1997.

Crowder, Michael. Senegal: A Study in French Assimilation Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Hymans, Jacques Louis. Leopold Sedar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh, U. K.: Edinburgh University Press, 1971.

Kluback, William. Leopold Sedar Senghor: From Politics to Poetry. New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Mezu, Sebastian Okechuwu. The Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor. Madison, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973.

Spleth, Janice, ed. Critical Perspectives on Leopold Sedar Senghor. Washington, D. C.: Three Continents, 1991.

Vaillant, Janet G., and Brenda Randolph. A Trumpet for His People: Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal. Mt. Airty, Md.: Sights, 1996.

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Senghor, Léopold Sédar

Senghor, Léopold Sédar
1906–2001

Born on October 9, 1906, in Joal-la-Portugaise to a Serer father (Basile Diogoye Senghor) and a Fulani/Peul mother (Gnilane Bakhoum), Léopold Sédar Senghor was arguably Africa's best-known poet-statesman of the twentieth century. In 1922 he enrolled in a Dakar seminary (Collège Libermann) with the hope of becoming a Catholic priest, but his ambition ended abruptly when he was expelled for participating in a protest against racism. After graduating from high school in 1928, he received a scholarship to France where he studied French literature at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. In 1932 he became a French citizen. He taught in French schools before serving in an all-African unit in the French army during World War II. Mobilized in 1940, he was captured by the Germans and spent eighteen months in a detention camp. In 1948 Senghor married Ginette Eboué with whom he had two children; when that marriage ended in divorce in 1957, he married a French woman, Colette Hubert, from Verson, Normandy.

Senghor participated actively in the vibrant intellectual environment of "Black Paris" in the 1930s, when black students, artists, and writers from Africa, North America, and the Caribbean were reclaiming and reaffirming their heritage and defining their identities. In 1934 Senghor and two fellow students—Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas—founded the review L'Etudiant noir in which they first elaborated the concept of negritude, which evolved into an intellectual, cultural, and artistic movement—the Negritude Movement. In 1947 Senghor collaborated with Alioune Diop to found the journal Présence africaine. A gifted poet and prolific writer, Senghor produced numerous volumes of poetry and essays. Some of the themes explored in his writings include the identity crisis of the African intellectual, cultural métissage (cross-pollination), and the possibility of a universal culture based on a common humanity.

Senghor's political career began in 1945 when he was elected as a Senegalese representative in the French Assembly, where he served until 1958. In 1956 he was elected mayor of Thiès, Senegal. He became president of the legislative assembly of the Mali Federation in 1959 and the president of the newly formed Republic of Senegal in 1960. Senghor was drawn to pan-Africanism and a brand of African socialism that reserved a major role for the state, particularly in the economy. He worked vigorously for the creation of a pan-African organization—the Organization of African Unity—in 1963. He was, however, criticized for replacing the multiparty system in Senegal with an authoritarian one-party system that monopolized power and stifled debate and opposition.

Senghor registered many firsts in his long life and brilliant career. He was the first African to successfully complete the grammar agrégation (1935), which qualified him to teach in the French university system; the first African to be elected into the French Academy (1984); and the first president of Senegal (1960–1980). His extensive work in politics, arts, and culture earned him many international awards. After retiring from public life, he spent most of his time in Verson, where he died on December 20, 2001, at age ninety-five.

see also Negritude.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bâ Sylvia Washington. The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Benoist, Joseph Roger de. Léopold Sédar Senghor. Paris: Beauchesne, 1998.

Girault, Jacques and Bernard Lecherbonnier. Léopold Sédar Senghor: Africanité universalité Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002.

Mezu, Sebastian Okechukwu. The Poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor. London: Heinemann, 1973.

Nkashama, Pius Ngandu. Négritude et poétique: une lecture de l'œvre critique de Léopold Sédar Senghor. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1992.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Chants d'ombres. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1945.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Hosties noires. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1948.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Chants pour Naëtt. Paris: P. Seghers, 1949.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Éthiopiques. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1956.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Nation et voie africaine du socialisme. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1961.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Nocturnes. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1961.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Liberté. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1964.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Les Fondements de l'africanité; ou, Négritude et arabité. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1967.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Négritude arabisme et Francité Réflexions sur le problème de la culture. Beyrouth, Lebanon: Éditions Dar Al-Kitab Allubnani, 1969.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Ce que je crois: Négritude, Francité et civilisation de l'universel. Paris: B. Grasset, 1988.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar. Le dialogue des cultures. Paris: Seuil, 1993.

Spleth, Janice, ed. Critical Perspectives on Léopold Sédar Senghor. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1991.

Vaillant, Janet G. Black, French, and African: A Life of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Venev, Yvan Dimitrov. La première bibliographie mondiale de Léopold Senghor, membre de l'Académie Française. Paris: Y. Venev, 1999.

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"Senghor, Léopold Sédar." Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Senghor, Léopold Sédar." Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/senghor-leopold-sedar

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