Léopold Senghor

Poet / Political Leader

Born: 9 October 1906
Died: 20 December 2001
Birthplace: Joal, Senegal
Best known as: The French poet who was Senegal's first president
Léopold Sédar Senghor became the first president of independent Senegal in 1960, after a career in France as national assembly member and literary intellectual. Born and raised south of the Senegalese capital of Dakar, he went to France on a scholarship in 1928. He became a French citizen in 1932 and was a French soldier during World War II (during which he was captured and imprisoned for 18 months). Senghor established himself in the late 1940s as an adept politician -- representing Senegal in the French Assembly -- a university lecturer, a major poet and, with Aimé Ce´saire of Martinique, a founder of Négritude, an intellectual movement that rejected colonialism and celebrated traditional African culture. When Senegal gained independence from France in 1960, Senghor became the new nation's first president. The head of a one-party state, he served as president until stepping down at the end of 1980. Senghor won many accolades as a member of France's literati and he greatly influenced African literature, but he had his critics. Negritude has been criticized for oversimplifying one of Senghor's themes -- that Africans are intuitive and Europeans are analytical -- and Senghor's political opponents accused him of being too closely tied to Senegal's former colonial masters.
Extra credit: His 1948 project, Anthology of New Negro and Malagasy Poetry, had an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre... Senghor helped establish the black culture journal Présence Africaine in 1947... He claimed to be influenced by African-American writers Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois.

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