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Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop: Anthropologist, historian, physicist and scholar

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 5/23/2013, 3:42 p.m.

Cheikh Anta Diop was a champion of African history, devoting his life and brilliant intellect to proving the critical role Black Egyptian people played in the development of arts and sciences, dispelling long-held ideas that Africans contributed nothing of importance to humanity. Diop held five doctorates: in physics, African history, Egyptology, linguistics and anthropology, and with this, he set the record straight on who the original people of Egypt actually were and their brilliant accomplishments.

Diop was born Dec. 29, 1923, in Thieytou in the Diourbel region of Senegal to an aristocratic Muslim family. His early education was at a traditional Islamic school.

In 1946, at age 23, Diop left for Paris, where he would study physics at the famed Sorbonne. In 1953, he met Frederic Joliot-Curie, the son-in-law of famed scientist Marie Curie, who ran the Laboratory of Nuclear Chemistry of the College de France, where Diop had been studying nuclear physics. Diop translated Einstein's theory of relativity into the Senegalese Wolof language. It was here and through his study that Diop would become a Pan-Africanist, immersing himself in the studies of sociology, anthropology, philosophy and Pan-Africanist thought.

Through his studies, he determined that ancient Egypt was founded and ruled by Black Africans, that the Egyptian language and culture still exist in modern Africa and that Black Egypt was responsible for the rise of civilization throughout Africa and the Mediterranean, including Rome and Greece. Diop published his findings in his first book, "Negro Nations and Culture," which immediately made him one of the most controversial historians of his time.

Diop was active in the African nationalist organization called the Rassemblement Democratique Africaine (RDA) and served as general secretary from 1950 to 1953. Its slogan was "National independence from the Sahara to the Cape and from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic." The movement was dedicated to purging the African consciousness of slavery and colonial thinking and acknowledging the African role in civilization. He organized and hosted the first Pan-African student conference and revealed his plan to restore Black consciousness through focusing on ancient Egypt. He returned to Senegal in 1960 to begin what would be a lifelong pursuit of historic truth and political struggle.

In 1962, Diop produced his second major work, "Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State," in which he wrote "the formation of a federated and unified Africa, culturally and otherwise, is the only way for Africa to become the power in the world that she should rightfully be." The work would serve as a manifesto for his political party, "Le Bloc des Masses Senegalaises," (BMS). The party, with its call for consciousness, was seen as a threat to President Leopold Senghor, who was Senegal's first president and the first African elected to the Academie Francaise.

Diop was arrested and tortured. The BMS was banned in Senegal for working against Senghor. Diop's work was nearly lost. But the BMS and its supporters launched an anti-Senghor campaign. Senghor relented and released Diop, offering him a position in a new government. Diop refused the offer when Senghor refused to release all other political prisoners.