The Status Quo before Négritude: Results of the Scramble for Africa.

A father has a blank stare as he looks at a hand and foot that has been cut off one of his children as punishment for not meeting a quota of goods in the Belgian colony of the Congo in 1904.

The tribesmen were basically slaves, working for no wages, to meet high demands, and were punished with the removal of limbs from either themselves or family members for not meeting quotas. It was a brutal and dark time in Belgian and Congolese history.

Starving men and boys from the Herero tribe pose for a picture taken by a German officer in German South West Africa (modern-day Namibia) in 1906. During the Herero Wars (1904-1907), the German empire decided to annihilate the Herero, Namaqua, and San people. They would corner them in the Namibia desert, and let them die of starvation or dehydration. Those that surrendered (like the ones pictured) were rounded up and put in concentration camps to work pretty much up until death. Up to 100,000 tribesmen, women and children died. This is considered by many as the first true genocide of the 20th century.

Négritude was both a literary and ideological movement, led by French-speaking black writers and intellectuals. The movement is marked by several important ideas:

Cecil Rhodes, founder of the De Beers Mining
Company and owner of the British South Africa
Company, which carved out Rhodesia for itself.
He wanted to "paint the map [British] red."




The rejection of European colonization and its role in the African diaspora.












U.S. President Roosevelt on visiting Gambia:
"It's the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life . . .
The natives are five thousand years back of us.
The British have been there for two hundred years;
for every dollar that the British have put into Gambia,
they have taken out ten.
It’s just plain exploitation of those people."




Denouncing Europe's historical lack of humanity when it dealt with Africa.












I am who I am because of who we all are.
"Ubuntu is the essence of being a person.
It means that we are people through other people.
We cannot be fully human alone.
We are made for interdependence."
Bishop Desmond Tutu.




A pride in "blackness" and traditional African values and culture.









"The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor"
— Voltaire




A recognition that the divide between the rich and the poor will never be addressed by the rich, thus the poor must do so.




Les Trois Pères

Its founders (or les trois pères), Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, met while studying in Paris in 1931 and began to publish the first journal devoted to Negritude, L’Étudiant noir (The Black Student), in 1934.

Leopold Sendar Senghor
First president of independent Senegal
Aime Cesaire
Poet, playwright, and politician from Martinique
Léon-Gontran Damas
French Guyanese poet & National Assembly member


The Audacious Term

The term "Négritude" was coined by Césaire in his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939) and it means, in his words, "the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture."

Césaire's first work is notable for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance and for its reclamation of the word "nègre" as a positive term. "Nègre" previously had been almost exclusively used in a pejorative sense, much like the English word "nigger." Césaire deliberately and proudly incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his movement.


Even in its beginnings Négritude was truly an international movement--drawing inspiration from the flowering of African-American culture brought about by the writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance while asserting its place in the canon of French literature, glorifying the traditions of the African continent, and attracting participants in the colonized countries of the Caribbean, North Africa, and Latin America.

Sympathizers and Critics

The movement’s sympathizers included French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Roumain, founder of the Haitian Communist party. The movement would later find a major critic in Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright and poet, who believed that a deliberate and outspoken pride in their color placed black people continually on the defensive, saying notably "Un tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude, il saute sur sa proie," or "A tiger doesn’t proclaim its tigerness; it jumps on its prey." Négritude remained an influential movement throughout the rest of the 20th century, and is one of the driving forces behind things like the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the Black Arts Movement in the U.S., and the Black Power Movement in the U.S.