Alioune Diop was the first black francophone publisher and a major figure in the African intellectual movement of the mid-twentieth century. Diop was born in 1910, in Saint-Louis, Senegal, the first son of ten siblings in a Wolof family. His earliest education was in a Koranic school, but he later attended western-oriented educational institutions.
After getting his end of secondary school diploma (Baccalauréat) in 1931 from Lycée Faidherbe in Saint Louis, Diop enrolled in the University of Algiers, Algeria, in October 1933 to study classics. In 1937 he moved to Paris, France, and enrolled in the Sorbonne University where he cultivated an important network of friendships with many prominent African and non-African intellectuals. In 1944 Diop converted to Catholicism and the following year he married Yandé Christiane.
Diop completed his studies in 1943 and then taught in secondary schools in France before embracing a brief political career as chief of staff of the governor of Francophone West Africa and as a French senator in 1946. He left politics in 1947 and founded Présence Africaine, a journal for the Black World. Diop envisioned Présence Africaine as a literary vehicle providing Africans with a proper knowledge of their history and heritage as well as developing their culture. He saw the journal as a way for Africans to enter modern world debates while allowing non-Africans to view them as future partners, thus generating a lasting fraternity among different peoples. In 1949 he expanded the journal to Présence Africaine Editions, a leading publishing house for African and Diaspora authors.
In 1956 Diop organized the First Congress of Negro Writers and Artists. The conference, which took place in Paris, brought together leading artists and intellectuals from the African continent and from the African Diaspora. The congress condemned racism and affirmed the cultural renaissance of African peoples. The African Society of Culture (SAC) emerged as the most prominent organization set up by the congress.
Diop organized the Second Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Rome, Italy, in 1959, in order to strengthen the resolutions of the first congress and to call for the solidarity of the black world as African colonies were on the verge of independence.
In 1966, when most African nations had gained their independence, Diop organized the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. He created the Second World Festival of Black-African Arts in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977. Both festivals aimed at bringing together black artists, writers, and musicians from around the world to encourage collaboration and cultural exchanges and at illustrating the value of the African artistic creation. It must be especially noted that Diop encouraged both African Muslims and Christians to incorporate the African experience into their respective faiths.
In 1975, Alioune Diop received an honorary doctorate from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He died five years later, on May 2, 1980, in Paris. At the age of seventy. At the time of his death, he was planning the Third World Festival of Black Arts which never took place. The fiftieth anniversary of Présence Africaine was celebrated at UNESCO in Paris in 1997 and his centenary was celebrated in May 2010 with symposia held in Dakar and in Paris.