Alioune Diop was the first black francophone publisher and a major figure in the African intellectual movement of the mid-twentieth century. Diop was born in 1910, in Saint-Louis, Senegal, the first son of ten siblings in a Wolof family. His earliest education was in a Koranic school, but he later attended western-oriented educational institutions.
After getting his end of secondary school diploma (Baccalauréat) in 1931 from Lycée Faidherbe in Saint Louis, Diop enrolled in the University of Algiers, Algeria, in October 1933 to study classics. In 1937 he moved to Paris, France, and enrolled in the Sorbonne University where he cultivated an important network of friendships with many prominent African and non-African intellectuals. In 1944 Diop converted to Catholicism and the following year he married Yandé Christiane.
Diop completed his studies in 1943 and then taught in secondary schools in France before embracing a brief political career as chief of staff of the governor of Francophone West Africa and as a French senator in 1946. He left politics in 1947 and founded Présence Africaine, a journal for the Black World. Diop envisioned Présence Africaine as a literary vehicle providing Africans with a proper knowledge of their history and heritage as well as developing their culture. He saw the journal as a way for Africans to enter modern world debates while allowing non-Africans to view them as future partners, thus generating a lasting fraternity among different peoples. In 1949 he expanded the journal to Présence Africaine Editions, a leading publishing house for African and Diaspora authors.
In 1956 Diop organized the First Congress of Negro Writers and Artists. The conference, which took place in Paris, brought together leading artists and intellectuals from the African continent and from the African Diaspora. The congress condemned racism and affirmed the cultural renaissance of African peoples. The African Society of Culture (SAC) emerged as the most prominent organization set up by the congress.