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April 26 2001
Vol. 92, Issue 8

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Mamadou Sow reads poems
Mamadou Sow reads poems by Leopold Seolor Senghor during
a program honoring the Negritude movement, hosted by the
modern foreign language department and the French Club.
(Photo: Christina Williams/Echo Staff Photographer)
Negritude's poets remembered
The story of a revolutionary literary movement
By Christina Williams
Echo Staff Writer

North Carolina Central University currently received a rare book of poems and illustrations by Leopold Seolor Senghor, and Luis Mailou Jones. The book was donated by the Coca-Cola foundation through the offices of Maya Angelou, and Time Warner.

In celebration of this gift, NCCU’s modern foreign language department and the French Club conducted a program on April 4 honoring Jones, Senghor, and the Negritude movement, which they represent.

Negritude movement art
Negritude movement art from book by Leopold Seolor and Luis Mailou Jones
Dr. Thomas Hammond, chairman of foreign languages department hosted the program, and provided an overview of Senghor and the Negritude movement.

Four of Senghor’s poems — “Femme Noire,” “Priere Aux Masques,” “Priere de Paix” and “A New Yorker” — were read, followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer period.

“Negritude” was a literary movement that lasted from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. It began as a rebellion among the French-speaking Africans and Caribbean French-speakers to protest French rule and assimilation. Its leading figures were Senghor, Aime Cesaire, and Leon Damus.

Senghor was born in 1906 in a town called Joal-la Portugaise. He went to Catholic school until 1914, and public school until 1928. In 1928, Senghor went to France to complete his education. He became a teacher in 1930,and taught at Lycee Descartes.

At the outbreak of World War II, Senghor joined the French army. He was captured by the Germans and lived as a prisoner of war for 18 months.

Senghor was president of Senegal from 1960 through 1981, and in 1983 he was inducted into the academy of Francaise.

Cesaire was born in 1913 in Martinique. He was 18 when he went to France to pursue his education. In 1945, Cesaire was elected mayor of Forte de France, and in 1956 he resigned from the Communist Party. By 1993 Cesaire retired from politics altogether.

Negritude movement art
Negritude movement art from book by Leopold Seolor and Luis Mailou Jones
The reason these people where important to the Negritude movement was because they fought against the European culture that believed “Africa was a blank slate that had no culture or history, and that it had done nothing to contribute to world’s culture,” according to Hammond.

In an effort to combat these stereotypes, Senghor and Jones used their poetry as a way of fighting back.

“We at this time plunged along with other black students into a desperate panic,” said Senghor. “The horizon was blocked with no reform in sight. The colonizers were legitimizing our political and economical dependency by saying we had no culture.”

Lavanda Williams, a freshman in Hammond’s class, said she enjoyed the presentation, and learned from it.

“I thought the program was interesting, and insightful. It was the type of program that made you want to do more research on the event,” said Williams.

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