PAULETTE NARDAL. Woman of letters and convictions, Paulette Nardal contributed to the emergence of the “negritude” movement. It is in the spotlight by Google this Tuesday, October 12.
Feminist, godmother of negritude, journalist, writer, teacher, activist, musician… From life to life, Paulette Nardal has greatly contributed to the formation of negritude and intersectional feminism. Yet his name is almost forgotten today. Return on the life and the fight of an avant-garde activist, whose action will perhaps soon be rewarded by a pantheonization.
Several personalities paid tribute, especially posthumously, to the activist. Thus, in the 1980s, Aimé Césaire had already affixed the name of Paulette Nardal on a square in the city of Fort-de-France of which he was the mayor. His rehabilitation first took place in the United States, where researchers in black studies stumbled upon his work. “If we revere the fathers of racial consciousness ‘in a very masculine discourse,’ said Brent Hayes Edwards in an interview with TV5 Monde, professor at Columbia University, we forget the mothers.” “Negritude will have been based on forgetting, even negation, of this informal and above all feminist side of the Nardals and the living room”, adds the researcher, who emphasizes that his research has come up against the absence of sources. In 2018, the City of Paris decided to create the Jane and Paulette Nardal promenade, in the 14th arrondissement. It was officially inaugurated by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, in the presence of Christiane Eda-Pierre, niece of Paulette and Jeanne Nardal, on August 31, 2019. Today, the names of Paulette and Jane Nardal appear on the list of 368 names established by historian Pascal Blanchard for mayors wishing to name streets after personalities from diverse backgrounds.
A committed avant-garde figure
In the early 1920s, with two of her sisters, Jane and Andrée, Paulette founded a literary salon at 7 rue Hébert. The goal? Make “the promotion of a black internationalism”, indicates Me Catherine Marceline to FranceTVinfo, lawyer at the bar of Fort-de-France and activist for the entry of Paulette Nardal in the Pantheon. The great black thinkers of the interwar period, notably Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Félix Eboué, Damas, Marcus Garvey (Pan-Africanist activist), Claude McKay (Jamaican novelist) … , it is La Revue du Monde Noir which emerges in 1931, ephemeral publication which compiles poems, press reviews, news articles and reflections on the place of blacks in the world – and, in particular, in colonial society. With this review, the Nardal sisters finally come out of the admiration they had for Westerners when they arrived in Paris and call in a manifesto for an “awakening of intellectuals”. Me Catherine Marceline indicates that the three sisters “have the idea of creating a magazine to exchange, but there are already the beginnings of political demands”, she adds.
The birth of the concept of negritude
“Negritude is the simple recognition of being black, the acceptance of this fact, of our black destiny, of our history and of our culture”, wrote Aimé Césaire in his Notebooks of a return to the native land in 1939. This concept will be attributed to him and to other male names (among others, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontrant Damas). However, it is indeed in the living room of the Nardal sisters that the political and literary concept of negritude was born. All the foundations of the concept of negritude also infuse the Revue du Monde Noir: in each issue, poems, historical texts on the “formation of the Creole race”, surveys, reflections on art, religion, the economy, the music are jostling there, taking into account the place of black men and women in these fields. The review even takes a militant turn from time to time: thus, we can read in the preface to the first issue that “the Black Race contributes[e] with the elite of the other Races and all those who have received the light of truth, beauty and goodness, for the material, intellectual and moral improvement of humanity. ”With TV5Monde, the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé will rely on importance of Paulette Nardal in the beginnings of the formation of the concept of negritude: “She created this salon, where Haitians, Africans, West Indians were already meeting and, finally, she, I believe, laid the first stone of what we will call ‘Negro internationalism’. […] At the time, there was no recognition of the black person, no recognition of a literature, or quite simply of a black culture.
Paulette Nardal is aware that her participation in the formation of negritude is excluded, despite her important role. She explains it thus to her biographer, Philippe Grollemund: “I have often thought and said, about the beginnings of negritude, that we were only unhappy women, my sister and I, and that it is for it was never mentioned about us. It was minimized, because it was women who talked about it. ” This oversight suggests, for her, the misogyny of her time: “Césaire and Senghor took up the ideas that we had brandished and expressed them with much more spark… we were only women! We marked out the tracks for men.” In 1963, she wrote to the historian Jacques Hymans, about Césaire, Damas and Senghor: “They took the ideas that we brandished and expressed them with much more sparkle and brio. We were only women, but true pioneers. We have undoubtedly paved the way for them “. Me Catherine Marceline confirms that “These three men have forgotten where they developed these theories”. According to the lawyer, Senghor made up for it a few years later by writing about the “guide” that was Paulette: “She was advising us in our fight for the resurrection of negritude”. Understanding its importance in the creation of the concept, the writer Joseph Zobel, friend of Paulette Nardal, had nicknamed it the “godmother of negritude”.
A feminist figure aware of intersectionality
Intersectionality is a notion coined by American scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, published in a survey published in 1991 on the violence suffered by women of color in the underprivileged classes in the United States. Intersectionality refers to the situation of people experiencing multiple forms of discrimination in society at the same time. This sociological and political concept was formed after the death of Paulette Nardal, and the use made of it in this article is therefore anachronistic, but can be explained by the fact that it applies to the case of Paulette Nardal.
Beyond contributing to the formation of the concept of Negritude, Paulette Nardal is forming an avant-garde intersectional feminist consciousness – perhaps in part due to theeviction in the memories of his participation in the creation of the concept of negritude. Upon her return to Martinique, Paulette Nardal founded the Rassemblement Feminine, a movement to promote women’s suffrage. She travels the whole country to convince the Martinican women to make use of this new experience. She also created “La femme dans la cité” there, a magazine where she invited people to fight against abstention and where she wrote about the place of women in Martinican society. At the end of the 1940s, she represented the West Indies at the United Nations, for which she worked for a long time on the condition of Martinique women. In 1947 and 1948, she notably wrote a report for the organization on the political positioning of Martinican women. Finally, Paulette Nardal will develop, on several occasions, the demands of “black feminism”, defending black women, doubly victims of racism and machismo, and explaining that black women suffer more from “the feeling of being uprooted” than men.
Many personalities campaign for its rehabilitation
On the occasion of the inauguration of Place Jane et Paulette Nardal, on August 31, 2019, Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, announced support for the project to bring Paulette Nardal into the Pantheon. Even today, many personalities (the choir she founded, speakers, associations and lawyers, among others) campaign for the pantheonization of Paulette Nardal. The singer Christiane Eda-Pierre, niece of the woman of letters, also does her best to maintain the memory of the Nadal sisters.
Born in Martinique in 1896 in a family of the new black bourgeoisie of the island, Paulette Nardal completes a family tree punctuated with important names in the history of the Caribbean island. His father, Paul, the grandson of a freed slave, was the island’s first black engineer to graduate from Arts and Crafts, and participated in the construction of the city of Saint-Pierre. His mother, Louise Achille, is an accomplished pianist and piano teacher. The eldest of a sororie of seven, Paulette moved to Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine) with her sister Jane in 1920. There she discovered Paris where Joséphine Baker and James Baldwin lived, mirroring the American Harlem Renaissance movement.
With her sister, she becomes the first black woman registered at the Sorbonne in Paris. She devoted her first graduation thesis to Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where the reality of slavery in the United States is depicted. In addition to her living room and her magazine, music will become, for her, a means of making her convictions heard. Enthusiastic for the “negros spirituals”, and in particular for the singer Marian Anderson and for the singer and dancer Joséphine Baker, in 1954 she founded the choir “Joie de Chanter”, which promotes Creole culture and transmits several demands through the song. The choir is still active in Martinique today. She died on January 16, 1985, aged almost 90.