Léopold Senghor , in full Léopold Sédar Senghor (born Oct. 9, 1906, Joal, Senegal, French West Africa [now in Senegal]—died Dec. 20, 2001, Verson, France), poet, teacher, and statesman, first president of Senegal, and a major proponent of the concept of Negritude.
Senghor was the son of a prosperous Serer planter and trader. His mother was a Roman Catholic and sent him to a nearby Catholic mission and seminary in order to fulfill his first ambition, which was to become a teacher-priest. At age 20 he realized that the priesthood was not his calling, and he transferred to the lycée (secondary school) in the capital city of Dakar.
In 1928 Senghor went to Paris on a partial scholarship and continued his formal studies at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at the Sorbonne. During these years Senghor discovered the unmistakable imprint of African art on modern painting, sculpture, and music, which confirmed his belief in Africa’s potential contribution to modern culture.
In 1935 Senghor became the first African agrégé, the highest rank of qualified teacher in the French school system, which allowed him to teach at both the lycée and university levels. He first taught French in Tours, but eventually he became a professor of African languages and civilization at the École Nationale de la France d’Outre-Mer. Drafted in 1939 at the beginning of World War II, he was captured in 1940 and spent two years in Nazi concentration camps, where he wrote some of his finest poems. On his release he joined the Resistance in France.
After the war Senghor became a member of the French Constituent Assembly. In 1946 he was sent as one of Senegal’s two deputies to the National Assembly in Paris. Elected on the Socialist ticket, Senghor founded the Senegalese Democratic Bloc in 1948 and, as that party’s candidate, was reelected by a wide margin in the 1951 elections for the French National Assembly. Five years later he became mayor of Thiès, Senegal’s railroad centre, and was reelected deputy.
The French West African colonies increasingly