When Senegal achieved independence in 1960, Senghor was elected its first president. He retired from the presidency on 31 December 1960. Senghor retired to France, became the first black African member of the French Academy in 1984, and published his memoir, (‘That Which I Believe: Negritude, Frenchness, and Universal Civilization’) in 1988. He died at Verson, France, on 20 December 2001. Philosophy: Leopold Sedar Senghor believes that every African shares certain distinctive and innate characteristics, values and aesthetics.
Negritude is the active rooting of an Black identity in this inescapable and natural African essence. (The major premise of Negritude is therefore that one’s biological make-up (race) defines one’s outer (skin color) as well as inner (spirit/essence) traits. It is a concept which holds that there is a ‘shared culture and subjectivity and spiritual essence’ among members of the same racial group. Instead of rejecting the (colonialist) theory that race defines one’s being; Negritude rejects the assumption that the African is inherently inferior to the “white man”.
To Senghor, this makes Negritude a weapon against colonialism and an ‘instrument of liberation’. To Senghor, the African essence is externalized in a distinctive culture and philosophy. This claim is supported by Senghor’s assertion that Negritude – the rooting of identity in one’s natural essence – is ‘diametrically opposed to the traditional philosophy of Europe’ (the colonizer). To Senghor, European philosophy is ‘essentially static, objective… It is founded on separation and opposition: on analysis and conflict’.
In contrast, African philosophy is based on ‘unity’, balance, negotiation and an appreciation of ‘movement and rhythm’. Senghor’s idea of “Negritude” posits an essence for blacks who are intuitive, sensual, and creative. In other words, he argues that blacks have a unique essence, with out which the “civilization of the Universal” would be incomplete. (This is reminiscent of Du Bois’ belief that Blacks have a particular value to add to world history). This essence, according to Senghor, is opposite from the white essence, which is based in reason and objectivity.