Léopold Sédar Senghor,
Born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal Mr. Senghor was a poet, a writer, a Senegalese politician, and the first President of the Republic of Senegal (1960–1980). He was also the first African man to sit at the French Academy. Mr. Senghor died on December 20, 2001 in Verson, France.
He was a Minister in France before his country’s independence was proclaimed.
His symbolist poetry, utilizing incantatory speech and earning him the nickname “the Poet President,” was founded on the hope for the creation of a universal civilization uniting all traditions beyond their differences. He refined the concept of “négritude” (blackness), introduced by Aimé Césaire, by defining it as follows: “Négritude is the simple acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact of being black, of our destiny as Black people, of our History, and of our Culture.”
Mr. Senghor started his studies in Senegal, then continued in France, where he arrived in 1928 at 22 years old. This marked the beginning of “sixteen years of wandering” as he referred to those times. He initially studied at the Sorbonne and then at the Louis-le-Grand High School, where he prepared for the entrance exam to the École Normale Supérieure. There, he became acquianted with Paul Guth, Henri Queffélec, Robert Verdier, and Georges Pompidou. He also met Aimé Césaire. On September 12, 1946, Mr. Senghor married Ginette Éboué (1923–1992), Parliamentary Officer for the Office of the Ministry of Overseas Departments and Territories of France, and daughter of Félix Éboué, former General Governor of French Equatorial Africa. He and Ginette Éboué had two sons.
After the war, Mr. Senghor decided to join the Communists. He became Chair of Linguistics in the Overseas Departments and Territories of France National School, a position he held until Senegal’s independence in 1960. During one of his research trips on Serere poetry in Senegal, the local Socialist leader, Lamine Gueye, suggested he consider becoming a candidate for a Parliament seat. Mr. Senghor agreed and he was elected Representative of the Senegal-Mauritania region at the French National Assembly, where colonies had just earned the right to be represented.
Building on his success, Mr. Senghor left the African section of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO) the following year and founded, with Mamadou Dia, the Senegalese Democratic Bloc (1948), which won the legislative elections of 1951. Re-elected as Member of the National Assembly in 1951 as an Independent from the Overseas Departments and Territories of France, he acted as Secretary of State at the Presidency of the Council under the Edgar Faure administration in Senegal in November 1956, and as Minister Counselor for the Michel Debré government from July 23, 1959 to May 19, 1961. He was also a member of the Commission in charge of preparing the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, member of the Great Council of French Western Africa, member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and worked as General Counselor for Senegal. Mr. Senghor was a strong supporter of federalism for newly independent African states, a kind of “French Commonwealth.”
Elected on September 5, 1960, Mr. Senghor was the President of the New Republic of Senegal. He is the author of the Senegalese anthem, the Red Lion. He resigned from office before the end of his fifth presidential term, in December 1980. Abdou Diouf, Prime Minister at that time, replaced him as Head of the Country in accordance with Article 35 of the Constitution. Under Senghor’s presidency, Senegal established the multi-party system as well as a better educational system.