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Cheikh Anta Diop

A Senegalese historian and anthropologist who studied the origins of the human race and the pre-colonial African culture. He is considered to be one of the greatest African historians in the 20th century.

he was born on 29 December 1923 in the Senegalese region of Diourbel. In 1946, he moved to Paris in order to earn a Mathematics degree, with the idea of continuing his studies in aeronautical engineering. At the same time, he enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the Sorbonne, and he was involved in creating the Association of African Students in Paris.

In 1947, he began his linguistic research of Wolof and Sérère. Upon completing his studies in Philosophy, he began to study Physics under the guidance of Fréderic Joliot-Curie, Marie Curie´s son in law, and even translating portions of Einstein´s Theory of Relativity into his native language--Wolof.

In 1951, the University of Paris rejected his doctorate thesis based on the idea that ancient Egypt had been a black culture. Diop did not give up, and he spent the next nine years adding more precise evidence to his work. In 1955, the thesis was published in the popular media as a book titled Nations nègres et culture ('Black Nations and Culture'). This work would transform him into the most controversial historian of his time.

In 1960, he successfully defended his thesis and earned his doctorate degree. That same year he also published Les fondements économiques et culturels d'un Etat fédéral dAfrique Noire ('The Economic and Cultural Aspects of a Federal State in Black Africa').

Diop returned to Senegal where he continued writing and researching. The University of Dakar established a radiocarbon laboratory to aid his research. The historian used this technique in order to determine the contents of melamine in Egyptian mummies. Forensic researchers would subsequently adapt his technique in order to determine the "racial identity" of victims that had been seriously damaged by abrasion.

During this time, he began his political activities by participating in the creation of the opposition party, the Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises (BMS). He was jailed in July of 1962, but then freed without charges in August of that same year. The following year, the BMS was declared to be illegal and dissolved, but a new party was created which was also dissolved by the government of President Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1964.

During the First Black Arts Festival in 1966, he received the award for the author who most influenced African thought in the 20th century.

In 1974, he participated in a UNESCO symposium in Cairo, where he presented his theories to other specialists in Egyptology. He also wrote the chapter about Egyptian origins in the UNESCO´s General History of Africa.

In 1976, he created a new party, Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), which was declared to be illegal shortly thereafter. Senghor stepped down in December of 1980, and his successor, Abdou Diouf, suppressed the laws that prohibited the creation of political parties, cancelling the legal cases that were pending against Cheikh Anta Diop, and legally recognising the RND. However, after the elections, Anta Diop refused to assume the position obtained for the National Assembly in order to protest what he had considered to be fraudulent elections.

He died on 07 February 1986, and was buried in his native village of Caytou, next to his grandfather and the town´s founder, Massamba Sassoum Diop, The Elder. 

Sources: Wikipedia and Cheikh Anta Diop´s website

Additional information: Interview of Cheikh Anta Diop