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Macron lists ‘diverse heroes’ for use in new street names

More than 300 figures from overseas and former colonies in the worlds of art, literature, entertainment and at war have been named for their significant contribution to France  

11 March 2021
A collage of some of the high-profile names on the list.  Macron lists ‘diverse heroes’ for use in new street names of FranceThe list of 318 names is intended to create a “fairer” representation of French history
By Hannah Thompson

President Emmanuel Macron has honoured 318 “diverse heroes” of France, in a new list of high-profile figures who are from French Overseas territories, former colonies or are immigrants.

Mr Macron first announced the planned list in an interview with Brut media last December.

He said that he wanted to create a list of “300 to 500” people from diverse backgrounds, in part to give mayors a new document that they could use to rename streets and public buildings, so that a “fairer” representation of French history would be visible in the public space.

A committee of around 20 people were tasked with creating the list. The group included historians Pascal Blanchard and Pascal Ory, the author Leïla Slimani, and the Islamic expert Rachid Benzine.

The list is set to be presented officially by Cities Minister Nadia Hai in coming days.

Yet, it has already been criticised, as only 21% of the figures mentioned are women, with just 67 out of the total 318. 

Those on the list include painter Sonia Delaunay, filmmaker Chantal Akerman, lawyer and feminist Gisèle Halimi, singer Annie Cordy, and the journalist Françoise Giroud.

This list only includes people who have passed away; another list, this time of notable people who are still alive, is expected to be published next month.

Overall though, the new list is relatively diverse, including popular figures such as:

  • Actor and comedian Coluche
  • Singer Dalida
  • Musician and actor Serge Gainsbourg
  • Singer Charles Aznavour
  • Actor Lino Ventura
  • Comedian and singer Henri Salvador 

Sportspeople including: 

  • Footballers Raymond Kopa, Larbi Ben Barek, Raoul Diagne
  • Franco-Senegalese boxer “Battling Siki”

Literary figures including: 

  • Poet and author Aimé Césaire
  • Poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor
  • Novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars
  • Novelist and journalist Emile Zola

Artists and designers including: 

  • Fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga
  • Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, the creators of the comic strip "Asterix"
  • Cartoonist Georges Wolinski, killed in 2015 in the attack against Charlie Hebdo
  • Globally-recognised artists such as Pablo Picasso, Victor Vasarely, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro

Figures who fought for France, including: 

  • Aviator Roland Garros
  • Spanish republican Celestino Alfonso
  • Romanian and German Resistance figures Olga Bancic and Dora Schaul
  • Ouassini Bouarfa, an Algerian member of the Kieffer commando - the only French unit to have taken part in the Normandy Landings
  • Senegalese rifleman Bakary Diallo, the first French-speaking African to have testified about his experience during the First World War
  • Konrad Piotr Rygiel, Mohammed El Gharrafi, Christophe Barek-Deligny and Facrou Housseini, who all died in Afghanistan in 2011.

Notable immigrants to France, including:

  • Author Richard Wright
  • Ma Yi Pao, one of the six Chinese soldiers who joined the Foreign Legion during the First World War
  • Cherif Cadi, the first Muslim admitted to a Polytechnique in 1887

Figures of France’s colonial history, including:

  • Guadeloupean Louis Delgrès, who fought to the death against Napoleon's reintroduction of slavery in 1802 
  • Messali Hadj, a political leader who played a prominent role in the process leading to independence in Algeria
  • Emir Abdelkader, who opposed the French conquest of Algeria in the 19th century
  • Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-based writer and psychiatrist of anti-colonialism, who was committed to the Algerian cause

Pascal Blanchard, head of the deciding committee, told HuffPost: “We wanted a fair representation of professions, including artists, scientists, journalists, people from fashion and design, activists and unionists, entrepreneurs, veterans...France, basically!”

According to President Macron’s original promise, the list is now set to be debated by the public, which has so far not been involved in this new process.

Mr Blanchard said: “That is the next step,” and explained that the process would be undertaken “at a local level [organised] by mayors”.

Spotlight: A closer look at some of the figures on the list

Image credits, clockwise: Richard Wright (Carl Van Vechten - Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress, Public Domain) / Dalida (Public Domain) / Léopold Sédar Senghor (UNESCO, Dominique Roger, CC BY-SA 3.0 igo) / Roland Garros (l'agence Meurisse - Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain) / Cristóbal Balenciaga (Fair use)

Author Richard Wright

  • 1908-1960
  • Moved to Paris in 1946 and became a permanent American expatriate
  • Good friends with Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir
  • American author of novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction 
  • Much of his work centred on racial themes and African-American racial discrimination
  • Credited with helping to change US race relations
  • Notable works include Uncle Tom's Children, Native Son, Black Boy, The Outsider

Singer Dalida

  • 1933-1987
  • Born as Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti in Egypt, to Italian parents
  • Left Egypt to move to Paris in 1954
  • Gained French nationality through marriage in 1961
  • Sold 170 million albums and singles worldwide
  • Professionally successful, but known for her more tragic personal life
  • Buried in Montmartre Cemetery

Fashion designer Balenciaga

  • 1895-1972
  • Full name Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre
  • Born in the Basque Country
  • Forced to close his boutiques in Spain due to the Spanish Civil War
  • Moved to Paris, opened his Paris boutique on Avenue George V in 1937
  • Hailed as  as "the master of us all" by Christian Dior, and as "the only couturier in the truest sense of the word" by Coco Chanel

Poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor

  • 1906-2001
  • Served as the first president of Senegal for two decades from 1960-80
  • First came to France in 1928, and studied at the Sorbonne
  • The first African to be elected as a member of the Académie française
  • Became a university professor
  • Coined the term and idea of "négritude", as a response to racism in France. It aimed to turn the racial slur nègre into a positive term to celebrate African culture and character
  • Made Grand-Croix of the Légion d'honneur, and Grand-Croix of the l'Ordre national du Mérite, among many awards in his lifetime and after his death

Aviator Roland Garros

  • 1888-1918
  • French pioneering aviator and fighter pilot during World War One and the early days of aviation
  • Spent three years in a German POW camp during World War One
  • The French Open tennis tournament and the stadium it takes place in are named after him
  • Awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur and Officier de la Légion d'honneur
  • Died in an aircraft crash during the war, aged just 29

The full list (in French) can be found uploaded by news source the HuffPost on web reader Scribd, here

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