Spring Colloquium Series - Lorelle Semley
In 1915, Marc Kojo Tovalou Houénou of the French West African colony of Dahomey became one of a small number of Africans who obtained French citizenship rights. When he burst onto the Parisian social scene in a series of soirées and political scandals a few years later, his special status made him appear radical and conservative at the same time. He associated with Garvey’s Pan-African movement but boasted about his French citizenship while simultaneously campaigning for an indigenous chiefly title in Dahomey. The limited scholarship on Houénou portrays him as a Pan-Africanist, assimilationist, or precursor to Négritude and emphasizes the impact of black Americans on his thinking. In contrast, this paper traces the turning point in his activism to his first return trip to West Africa in 1921. In a speech in 1924, Houénou suggested that France’s unfulfilled promises of freedom and liberty in its African colonies would lead to, what he called, “evolution revolution.” By highlighting the hypocrisy of the French “civilizing mission” and his own ambivalence toward it, Houénou’s intellectual work redefines African, Atlantic, and imperial histories.
Free and open to the public. A question and answer session will follow the lecture. Please feel free to bring a lunch.