Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Denise Davidson

Second Advisor

Michelle Brattain

Third Advisor

Jacqueline Rouse

Fourth Advisor

Tyler Stovall


This dissertation examines the meanings and significance of the African American freedom movement for the French and Francophone Africans at the momentous juncture of decolonization. By analyzing the French and Francophone African press, as well as the writings of French and Francophone African intellectuals, this project demonstrates that American racial events of the 1950s and 1960s allowed both communities to begin a reflection on the phenomenon of French racism. In particular, the French historical traditions of universalism and egalitarianism, important pillars of French colonial discourse, shaped the French and Francophone African responses to American racism. French and Francophone Africans’ frequent comparisons between the American racial context and the French colonial and national contexts reveal that while American racial events were evocative of French racial prejudice, a deep attachment to the France of 1789 precluded the two groups from assessing French racism fairly. Marxism, a political theory that found its way in French colonies in the late 1930s and a major intellectual current in postwar France, largely influenced French and Francophone African reactions to the African American freedom movement. The French and Francophone Africans’ adherence to a Marxian metanarrative of oppression especially allowed them to build parallels between American racism and French colonial and racial oppression. However, the global and systematic dimensions of a Marxian, if not Marxist, analysis of these phenomena also precluded the French and Francophone Africans from engaging in a particularistic evaluation of French racial prejudices. By highlighting the ways in which the French nation-state shaped both the French and Francophone African responses to American racial events and reflections on French racism, this dissertation adds a line in the scholarly story of the “French imperial nation-state.” In addition to offering a revisionist take on French popular and academic narratives regarding the rise of French racial awareness, which those narratives locate at the turn of the 21st century, my analyses and conclusions shatter the mythical, and still widely held, assumption that the global “race war” of the 1950s and 1960s had created a powerful sense of racial identification among blacks of Africa and the African diaspora.