Deputy from Senegal, Commissioner
General charged with oversight of
French colonial interests, President of
DNA, RG 59, 540C2/original. PD. Portions translated from French.
1. Blaise Diagne (1870 or 1872--1934), Senegalese politician, was born into an African Catholic family on the island of Gorée and
received his education at the Brother of Ploermel School, Saint-Louis, Senegal, with the support of a wealthy métis, Adolphe
Crespin. He joined the French colonial customs service in 1891 and soon gained a reputation among his supervisors as a militant on racial matters. He
was frequently transferred and held posts in several locations, including Réunion and Guyana. During this period Diagne came in contact
with important black French West Indian politicians.
In 1914, in the midst of a deep political crisis in Senegal, Diagne ran for the French legislature. The Creole and French commercial oligarchies,
which had shared power in Senegal for much of the nineteenth century, were competing to establish control; meanwhile, enfranchised Africans---the
majority of the electorate---were becoming politically active. In the span of a few months, Diagne succeeded in rallying around him all the
significant African groups: the Young Senegalese, Senegal's first African political action group; the Lebu of Dakar and Rufisque, who had special
land grievances against the French; and Islamic groups such as the powerful Mouride sect. Diagne also gained the support of some poorer French
settlers in Senegal, including the journalist Jean Daramy d'Oxoby, editor of the newspaper La Démocratie du
Sénégal (later L'Ouest Africain Français). Diagne won the election by a landslide and became the first
black representative in the French Chamber of Deputies.
His election, which was rightly seen as a triumph for the urban African elite in Senegal, posed the problem of the status of the
originaires, the urban-born Africans of the "Four Communes" of Dakar, Saint-Louis, Gorée, and Rufisque, who had possessed
the franchise since 1848. Many in the French political establishment contested this right on the grounds that most Senegalese kept their
"personal status," i.e., their right to have recourse to Islamic law in matters of marriage (i.e., polygamy), divorce, and inheritance. The
coming of World War I provided Diagne with a golden opportunity to consolidate the rights of the originaires by demonstrating their loyalty to
France. He urged them to volunteer for the war---in French regiments rather than in the colonial regiments known as tirailleurs
sénégalais (Senegalese sharpshooters). In 1916 Diagne's efforts were rewarded by a law in the French parliament
recognizing the French citizenship of originaires, who nevertheless retained their personal status. In 1918 Diagne was given a cabinet post in
the national emergency government of Georges Clémenceau. He was named commissioner for recruitment of African troops and departed for
French West Africa on a recruiting mission that resulted in the enrollment of sixty thousand Africans. One reason for the success of the mission
(previous attempts had been unsuccessful) was that Diagne was able to promise a measure of change for disfranchised Africans in the interior, notably
the end of the hated administrative justice system known as the indigénat, for veterans and their families.
The postwar years were the climax of Diagne's political career. He consolidated the African political victory in Senegal in the local
elections of 1919 and 1921, during which Africans took over the majority of seats in Senegal's local government. In France he was selected by the
French parliament to head the Chamber's Committee on Colonies, which oversaw the activities and policies of the Colonial Ministry.
In 1919 he was instrumental in convening the first Pan-African Congress in Paris. Soon after, however, his position came under increasing threat
both in France and in Senegal. On the left, the Diagne mission of 1918 had raised hopes among Africans for an extended franchise and greater
participation in the administration---considerations that France was not at the time prepared to grant. On the right, a campaign was launched in
conservative French colonial milieux to discredit Diagne by accusing him of being a Communist and separatist. In 1919 French conservatives marked an
important victory with the nomination of Henri Merlin as governor-general of French West Africa. Merlin's tough anti-Diagne stance resulted in
serious incidents, such as the 1921 Kaolack demonstration, in which Diagne and his followers came close to open rebellion. In 1923 Diagne succeeded
in having Merlin transferred to another colonial position---but at the price of a compromise settlement with the colonial administration and French
commercial interests that Diagne had previously opposed. The 1923 Pact of Bordeaux marked the beginning of a shift toward the right for Diagne, a
shift that climaxed in 1930 when he defended the use of forced labor by the French colonial administration in front of the International Labour
Conference. By this time a powerful opposition movement in Senegal had developed against Diagne, led in part by his former aides, including Galandou
Diouf. Diouf probably would have triumphed in the legislative elections in 1928, and especially in 1932, if the colonial administration had not
exerted pressure and even rigged elections in support of Diagne. Diagne was the undersecretary of the Ministry of Colonies from June 1931 to February
1932, the first black person to hold a French ministerial post. He died at Cambo-les-Bains, France, in 1934 (Irving L. Marovitz, "The
Political Thought of Blaise Diagne and Laminé Gueye," Présence Africaine 72, no. 4 : 26;
G. Wesley Johnson, "Commémoration du centenaire de la naissance de Blaise Diagne," Notes africaines, no. 135
[July 1972]: 57--95; François Manchuelle, "Métis et colons: La famille Devés et l'émergence
politique des Africains au Sénégal, 1881--1897," Cahiers d'études africaines 24 : 477--504; idem,
"Origines républicaines de la politique d'expansion coloniale de Jules Ferry, 1838--1865," Revue française
d'histoire d'outre-mer 75 : 185--206; G. Wesley Johnson, "The Senegalese Urban Elite, 1900--1945," in Africa
and the West: Intellectual Responses to European Culture, ed. Philip D. Curtin [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972], pp.
139--187; idem, "The Impact of the Senegalese Elite upon the French, 1900--1940," in Double Impact: France and Africa in the Age of
Imperialism, ed. G. Wesley Johnson [Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985], pp. 159--166; idem, "African Political Activity in
French West Africa, 1900--1940," in History of West Africa, ed. J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, vol. 2 [Harlow,
England: Longman, 1974], pp. 542--567; EBPS; Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Sénégalais in French West
Africa, 1857--1960 [Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1991], pp. 44--46).
Henri Jaspar, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
to Baron Emile de Cartier de Marchienne,
Belgian Ambassador to the U.S.
Brussels, 23 June 1921
Concerning Negro Movement in the Congo, as a result of Negro World periodical.
Following your 182 [20 June 1921]. No disturbance reported. Stop. Matter merely amounts to some Negroes reading American newspaper Negro
[Endorsement:] Note for the minister.
The information contained in the above
telegram was given to me by Minister
SAMAE, AF-1-17. TG, draft copy. Translated from French.
1. The number of copies of the Negro World circulating in the Belgian Congo seems to have been exaggerated. The journalist Pierre Daye,
visiting Leopoldville in 1922, mentioned the occasional circulation of "this little anti-white pamphlet." Acting Governor-General
M. Rutten later declared that he had only with great difficulty found a copy of the Negro World in Boma. He regarded it as harmless (see
article in La Nation Belge, 25 June 1921, which appears as an enclosure to Henri Jaspar to Baron Emile de Cartier de Marchienne, printed at 30