Senghor, Leopold Sedar

1906–2001
President of Senegal

Leopold Sedar Senghor was both a successful poet and a major political figure. Born in French West Africa (now SENEGAL), Senghor studied to become a Catholic priest. However, he was forced to leave the seminary because he protested against racism. In 1928 he traveled to France to study. He hoped to become recognized as a Frenchman rather than as an African, but he soon decided that this was an impossible goal.

Instead Senghor explored his African roots, writing prizewinning poetry about his identity as an African. While fighting for France in World War II, he was captured by the Nazis. He spent two years in concentration camps, where he continued to write. After the war Senghor entered politics, and in 1946 he became one of Senegal’s representatives to the French National Assembly. When Senegal achieved independence in 1960, Senghor was elected its first president.

Senghor, Leopold Sedar

Throughout his life Senghor balanced political, intellectual, and artistic interests. He developed a theory that the world’s civilizations should unite and form a single universal culture. He also helped to create and promote the black literary and cultural movement known as NEGRITUDE.

In 1984 Senghor was the first African elected to the Academie Francaise, France’s highest academic honor. He wrote several books of poetry, including Oeuvre poetique, which was published in 1990.