Léopold Sédar Senghor


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President of the Republic of Senegal (1960–80). An outstanding personality in French-speaking black Africa, Senghor established himself as a world political figure and a poet of great power.

Born in Joal, the son of a Sere peasant family, Senghor was educated in Catholic mission schools before being awarded a scholarship in 1928 to study in France. Receiving his Licence des Lettres in 1931, Senghor taught at schools in Tours and Paris between 1935 and 1948. He was a prisoner of war in Germany for two years in World War II. During his period in Paris he met Aimé Césaire (1913–2008), the West Indian poet, with whom he founded the concept of French-speaking black literature known as négritude.

Senghor entered politics in 1945 when he participated in the French constituent assemblies that shaped the Fourth Republic. He was elected as a deputy from Senegal to the French national assembly in 1946 and joined the parliamentary group of French socialists (SFIO) under Lamire Gueye, the mayor of Dakar, in 1947. Breaking away in 1948 to form the Independants d'Outremer (IOM) and the Bloc Démocratique Sénégalais in Senegal, Senghor gained decisive electoral victories in 1951 and 1952 against the SFIO. In 1957 he won office in Senegal, reuniting with Gueye in 1958 to form the Union Progressive Sénégalaise (UPS). A strong advocate of francophone West African federation, Senghor founded the Parti de Regroupement Africain (PRA) in opposition to the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), which supported the creation of autonomous territories. Following de Gaulle's 1958 referendum, which hastened the passage to independence of the West African territories and fragmented the PRA, Senghor attempted to establish the Mali Federation. Following its breakdown in 1960, Senghor became president of the now independent Senegal, a position he held until 1980 when he retired.

His poetry won attention with the publication of Chants d'ombre (1945) and Hosties noires (1948). In a 1964 anthology of the works of French-speaking black poets, Sartre praised Senghor and his group, saying that the black francophone poetry was the most powerful revolutionary verse then being written. His more recent publications include Poèmes (1984).

Subjects: Literature.

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