The History of Negritude: The Francophone Literary Movement

Aime Cesaire
Jean Baptiste Devaux/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 4

La Négritude was a literary and ideological movement led by francophone black intellectuals, writers, and politicians. The founders of la Négritude, known as les trois pères (the three fathers), were originally from three different French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean but met while living in Paris in the early 1930s. Although each of the pères had different ideas about the purpose and styles of la Négritude, the movement is generally characterized by:

  • Reaction to colonialization: Denunciation of Europe's lack of humanity, rejection of Western domination and ideas
  • Identity crisis: Acceptance of and pride in being black; valorization of African history, traditions, and beliefs
  • Very realistic literary style
  • Marxist ideas

Aimé Césaire

A poet, playwright, and politician from Martinique, Aimé Césaire studied in Paris, where he discovered the black community and rediscovered Africa. He saw la Négritude as the fact of being black, acceptance of this fact, and appreciation of the history, culture, and destiny of black people. He sought to recognize the collective colonial experience of Blacks - the slave trade and plantation system - and attempted to redefine it. Césaire's ideology defined the early years of la Négritude.

Léopold Sédar Senghor

Poet and first president of Sénégal, Léopold Sédar Senghor used la Négritude to work toward a universal valuation of African people and their biological contributions.

While advocating the expression and celebration of traditional African customs in spirit, he rejected a return to the old ways of doing things. This interpretation of la Négritude tended to be the most common, particularly in later years.

Léon-Gontran Damas

A French Guyanese poet and National Assembly member, Léon-Gontran Damas was the enfant terrible of la Négritude.

His militant style of defending black qualities made it clear that he was not working toward any kind of reconciliation with the West.

Participants, Sympathizers, Critics

Frantz Fanon - Student of Césaire, psychiatrist, and revolutionary theoretician, Frantz Fanon dismissed the Négritude movement as too simplistic.

Jacques Roumain - Haitian writer and politician, founder of the Haitian Communist Party, published La Revue indigène in an attempt to rediscover African authenticity in the Antilles.

Jean-Paul Sartre - French philosoper and writer, Sartre assisted in the publication of the journal Présence africaine and wrote Orphée noire, which helped to introduce Négritude issues to French intellectuals.

Wole Soyinka - Nigerian dramatist, poet, and novelist opposed to la Négritude, believing that by deliberately and outspokenly taking pride in their color, black people were automatically on the defensive: « Un tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie » (A tiger doesn't proclaim its tigerness; it jumps on its prey).

  • Mongo Béti
  • Alioune Diop
  • Cheikh Hamadou Kane 
  • Paul Niger
  • Ousmane Sembène
  • Guy Tirollien
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    Lawless, Laura K. "The History of Negritude: The Francophone Literary Movement." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/history-negritude-francophone-literary-movement-4078402. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, April 5). The History of Negritude: The Francophone Literary Movement. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-negritude-francophone-literary-movement-4078402 Lawless, Laura K. "The History of Negritude: The Francophone Literary Movement." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-negritude-francophone-literary-movement-4078402 (accessed December 17, 2017).