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African Roots

Léopold Sédar Senghor: From prisoner to president

Léopold Sédar Senghor is considered as one of Africa's greatest statesmen, poets and intellectuals. After a spell of imprisonment during the Second World War, he became the first president of Senegal.

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The story of Léopold Sédar Senghor

How would one briefly sum up Léopold Sédar Senghor's life?

He was born on October 9, 1906, in the south-east of Senegal's capital Dakar. Senghor was the founder and a strong defender of the Négritude, a political and literary movement born in the 1930s. He became president of the Republic of Senegal in September 1960 after having worked as a journalist, among other things. He remained head of state for more than two decades. He died on December 20, 2001, aged 95, in France. 

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What should we remember about Léopold Sédar Senghor?

Léopold Sédar Senghor embodied peace, humility, and he was a perfectionist in his work. He was a great scholar who was passionate about languages. He became the first black writer to be elected as a member of the Académie française - the famousFrench language council - in 1984. He was also arguably the first head of state in Africa to resign of his own will.

Which phrases are still attributed to Léopold Sédar Senghor?

"Emotion is Negro, just as reason is Hellenic”. Despite the critics, he never denied the role of emotion. He reproached his opponents for not trying to understand it. According to him, emotion is the intuitive reason in opposition to the European definition of reason, the discursive one.

"Assimilate not to be assimilated” Through this other famous quotation, Senghor urges the African youth to assimilate everything that stems from ancient culture and to raise this knowledge to a new height which used to be unattainable for people from the ancient society.

"The Civilization of the Universal”. The saying emanates from the famous Senghorian theory of assimilation and openness, of giving and receiving. It explains the mixing of the Negro side and the Hellenic part which should lead to the "New Negro”, a full and fecund man. 

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Leopold Sédar Senghor: From prisoner to president - MP3-Stereo

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Which misunderstandings affected Senghor's life?

Between 1962 and 1968, Léopold Sédar Senghor made several political mistakes while handling the rise of the Popular Front in Senegal. He had to face alone the 1968 intellectual and student movement linked to Marxism. 

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How was Léopold Sédar Senghor honored?

Senghor received numerous prizes and honors, among them the French Legion of Honor, the 1968 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and countless honorary degrees of the some of the world's leading universities. Numerous places and institutions bear his name, incluging the Léopold Sédar Senghor Foundation, a stadium and an airport in Senegal; the French-language Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt; and the Senghor Institute in Portugal.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Lily Mafela, Ph.D., and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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