Léopold Sédar Senghor Biography

(1st President of Senegal)

Birthday: October 9, 1906 (Libra)

Born In: Joal Fadiout, Senegal

Leopold Sedar Senghor was the first President of the Republic of Senegal. Born in a crowded household of a wealthy and well-connected family, Leopold had to jostle for position. At a young age, he was packed off to a prestigious boarding school. Attracted to religion since an early age, he began devoting his attention to reading and writing French poetry and literature. After completing high school, he relocated to France. After many crushing setbacks, he finished his secondary education and began professorship simultaneously at two top-ranked schools. Senghor's career was interrupted when a foreign power invaded his adopted homeland. He began to develop a cultural identity and stronger positive interpretations of the value of his continent's social contributions. Senghor then tried his hand at politics, swiftly rising to a position of power. When his country transitioned into independence, Senghor was elected president. While using a heavy hand against his rivals, he utilized his education and willpower to modernize his country. After decades in office, this eminent politician resigned and devoted his remaining years to an illustrious career in literature. Dying peacefully in his bed at an advanced age, he was respected and admired throughout the French literary world for his contributions to the fine arts and hailed in his homeland for the leadership he bestowed on his people.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Léopold Sédar Senghor

Died At Age: 95

Presidents Black Leaders

political ideology: Socialist Party of Senegal

Died on: December 20, 2001

place of death: Verson, France

Notable Alumni: Lycée Louis-le-Grand

Founder/Co-Founder: Senegalese Democratic Bloc, Socialist Party of Senegal

More Facts

education: University Of Paris, Lycée Louis-le-Grand

awards: Peace Prize of the German Book Trade - 1968
Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding - 1982

Childhood & Early Life
Leopold Sedar Senghor was born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, French West Africa. His father was Basile Diogoye Senghor, a businessman and a member of the elite Serer tribe. His mother, Gnilane Ndieme Bakhou was the third wife of Leopold's father. He grew up in a large household.
In 1913, Leopold enrolled in a boarding school run by an organization known as 'Fathers of the Holy Spirit'. After high school graduation, he briefly entered a seminary in Dakar. He switched to a secular university and began to intensely study French literature and mathematics.
In 1928, Senghor boarded a vessel and sailed to France. He then enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Shortly thereafter, he dropped out of school. He then began taking a preparatory course in order to be invited to enroll in an elite school. However, he failed the entrance exam.
In 1932, he successfully obtained French citizenship.
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In 1935, he graduated from the ‘University of Paris’. He was then hired as a professor. He taught continuously at two schools, one in Paris and one in Tours, for the next 10 years.
It was during this time that Senghor developed the concept of 'negritude', his most enduring contribution to history. Negritude was a frame of mind wherein racial slurs were transubstantiated into a celebration of African culture and identity.
In 1940, while fighting in a war during the German invasion of France, he was taken prisoner. The Germans transferred him to a special prisoner of war camp in Poitiers designed to hold soldiers of color.
In 1942, he was released by the Nazis. He immediately resumed his teaching responsibilities as a professor at an elite school near Paris. He also continued to support the resistance.
In 1945, he was promoted to Dean of the Linguistics Department of a prestigious French school. He would hold this position for the next 15 years.
In 1948, he founded the ‘Bloc democratique senegalais’ (BDS), a political party. It quickly rose to prominence.
In 1951, the BDS did well in the elections. He was elected as a special deputy of the French parliament, a post he held for the next five years.
From 1956-1961 he held many posts of importance in the administration of Prime Minister Michel Debre. Senghor served as the mayor of Thies and was also associated with the committee responsible for drafting the constitution of the Fifth Republic (France) during this time.
On September 5, 1960, Leopold was elected as the first President of the newly-independent Republic of Senegal. This political leader then wrote the Senegalese national anthem, still in use today.
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In 1962, the President arrested Mamadou Dia, his one-time ally and the then prime minister, and charged him with fomenting a revolution. Dia would spend the next 12 years in jail.
In 1964, Senghor published his first book, 'Liberte'. The volume which contains a collection of speeches, commentary and essays was the first in a series of five books.
On March 22, 1967, he was nearly assassinated after delivering a sermon. He was lucky to escape with his life.
In December 1980, he announced that he was resigning the presidency, effective at the end of the year. This was despite the fact that he had not reached the end of his term in office.
On June 2, 1983, he was elected as a member of the French Academy, the first person of African origin to be inducted. This was a source of pride for people in his homeland.
In 1993, Senghor published the fifth volume of his 'Liberte' series. It was widely appreciated.
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Major Works
Leopold Sedar Senghor was the President of Senegal from September 6, 1960 to December 31, 1980. During his presidency, he instituted many socially progressive policies in an attempt to modernize his country. He also worked with neighboring countries to instill a sense of 'negritude', or pride in being African
Awards & Achievements
Senghor received two war medals, 37 honorary doctorates, a commemorative medal, ‘Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic’ of Spain and a host of other sundry awards and honors during his lifetime.
Personal Life & Legacy
This eminent politician married Ginette Eboue in 1946. He then took a second wife, Colette Hubert Senghor, in 1957. He fathered numerous children and was a devout Roman Catholic throughout his life.

On December 20, 2001, Senghor passed away of natural causes in Verson, France.
Senghor is widely hailed for his prominent contributions to French and Senegalese literature and poetry. He also played an influential role in post-colonial consciousness with his negritude ideology.
The airport in Dakar, capital of Senegal, is named after this famous politician. A street in Paris, France is also named after him.
Senghor's "middle name" Sedar means "a person impossible to humiliate". Senghor's family name also has a deeply spiritual meaning.
Rumor has it that Senghor abruptly resigned his presidency based on an unfavorable horoscope reading.

See the events in life of Léopold Sédar Senghor in Chronological Order

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