BLACK, FRENCH, AND AFRICAN: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor by Janet G. Vaillant

BLACK, FRENCH, AND AFRICAN: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor

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An admiring yet discerning biography of one of the most remarkable Africans of this century. Vaillant is associate director of the Soviet and East European Language and Area Center Program at Harvard. Born in 1906 in Senegal, Senghor was not only a provocative thinker on the role of blacks and Africans, but a member of the French Academy, an intellectual, a scholar, a politician, a poet, and a devout Christian. African by birth but French-educated, Senghor's attempt to reconcile his sense of being divided was a major theme in his life. His philosophy of Negritude tried to resolve this conflict--a conflict he thought common to other blacks--between an African heritage and a European education. Graduating with the highest honors in Dakar, he went on to study in Paris, where he was the first black African to earn the title of Professor of the University of Paris. He spent most of the 1930's and 40's in France, befriending such up-and-coming Frenchmen as Georges Pompidou, but also getting to know blacks from the West Indies and America. His writing and speaking gained attention, and he was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies, where he defended Senegalese interests. Later, Senghor became the first president of an independent Senegal. During his long tenure, the country became one of the most democratic states in Africa, and Senghor himself, on his retirement in 1980, became the first African leader voluntarily to give up power. To Vaillant, there is a mythic quality to Senghor's life--a quality, she suspects, he himself encouraged. Loving both France and Africa, ""his life was dedicated to bringing the best of each to the other. Was it not a task worthy of a great heart?"" she concludes. While admiring Senghor's accomplishments, the judicious and fair-minded Vaillant never avoids criticism when due. And while the private Senghor proves elusive here, the public man she describes is compelling enough. A fine biography.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press