PARIS — Esteemed Martinique poet and politician Aimé Césaire, a leading
figure in the movement for black consciousness, died April 17. He was
Césaire died in Fort-de-France on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, the hospital that was treating him said.
Césaire was involved in the fight for French West Indian rights, and he
also served as a lawmaker in the lower house of France’s parliament for
nearly 50 years. French President Nicolas Sarkozy successfully led a
campaign last year to change the name of Martinique’s airport in honor
Sarkozy last Thursday praised Césaire as “a great poet” and a “great humanist.”
“As a free and independent spirit, throughout his whole life he
embodied the fight for the recognition of his identity and the richness
of his African roots,” Sarkozy said. “Through his universal call for
the respect of human dignity, consciousness and responsibility, he will
remain a symbol of hope for all oppressed peoples.”
Césaire’s 1950 “Discourse on Colonialism” has become a classic of
French political literature and helped develop the concept of
negritude, which urges blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage.
Born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, Césaire moved to
mainland France for high school and university studies, and finished
one of the country’s most elite institutes, the École Normale
He and Senegal’s Léopold Sédar Senghor founded the journal “Black
Student” in the 1930s, which gave birth to the idea of negritude.
Césaire returned to Martinique during World War II and taught at a high school in Fort-de-France.
Césaire served as mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945 to his retirement in 2001, except for a blip in 1983-84.
“I accomplished the work I had to do,” Césaire said in his surprise
announcement in 2000 that that he wouldn’t seek another mayoral term.
Césaire’s essays included “Negro I am, Negro I Will Remain.” His poems,
written in French, included “Notes From a Return to the Native Land.”
He also wrote plays.