French civil servant broke barriers in life and death

Félix Eboué pictured greeting Charles de Gaulle, whom he had secretly contacted in 1940 after the Nazi Occupation of France

The Connexion tells the story of the remarkable career of Félix Eboué, the first black person to be given a resting place in the Panthéon, following a lifetime of dedicated service to the French state in Africa.

Félix Eboué (1884-1944) was the first black person honoured with a resting place in the Panthéon in recognition of his illustrious career in the civil service and his work for the French Resistance in the Second World War.

He is also known for writing several books on African dialects and languages, a subject which interested him all his life.

Born in Cayenne, French Guiana, into a family of five, his father was a gold prospector and his mother ran a shop.

He was descended from slaves who had been freed when slavery was abolished in all French territories in 1848.

Felix Eboué was born in this house

He excelled at school, winning a coveted scholarship to the Lycée Montaigne, in Bordeaux, in 1901.

At the time, French colonies were subject to the idea of ‘la mission civilisatrice’ (the civilising mission) – an idea that Europe had a duty to ‘civilise’ and ‘Europeanise’ non-Europeans.

Most officials in the administration were white and until 1946, in most colonies there was a strict segregation between ‘sujets français’ (Black, Asian and minority ethnic native citizens) and ‘citoyens français’ (European, white).

French citizenship for ‘natives’ was considered a privilege rather than a right.

In French West Africa, for example, out of a population of 15 million, ...

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