David Murphy
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Pan-Africanism and Marxism in interwar France
The case of Lamine Senghor
in Revolutionary lives of the Red and Black Atlantic since 1917
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To speak of a ‘Black France’ in the interwar period still typically involves accounts of jazz, Josephine Baker and la vogue nègre of the 1920s or the birth of Négritude in the 1930s. Over the past three decades, however, groundbreaking research has uncovered the writings and activism of a hitherto largely forgotten group of black militants from the 1920s who sought to fuse Pan-Africanist and Marxist thought. This chapter examines one of the most important but still curiously neglected figures of the period, Lamine Senghor, a decorated Senegalese veteran of the First World War. Senghor emerged in the mid-1920s and, for a few short years (he died of TB in November 1927), was perhaps the best-known and most influential black anti-colonial activist of his time. In his writings and activism, Senghor combined a Communist-inspired critique of empire with an attempt to forge a shared sense of black identity across disparate groups both within France and more globally. The chapter charts the trajectory of Senghor’s brief career as an activist, tracing the ways in which issues of race and class were consistently intertwined. It focuses in particular on his success at the inaugural meeting of the League against Imperialism in Brussels in February 1927: Senghor’s speech – in which he used slavery as a key trope linking black and working-class experience – was widely greeted as one of the highlights of the Congress, translated almost immediately into English and published in the United States.

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