Journalist and resistance fighter, Jane Vialle (1906 – 1953) was one of the first black French senators. During her political career, she worked against racism and discrimination, for equality and development in Africa.
A childhood in full colonization
Daughter of a vili Congolese mother, Thérèse Tchiloumbou, and a French father, Michel Vialle, Jane Vialle was born on August 27, 1906 in Ouesso, in the north of the current Republic of Congo. At the time of its birth, French explorers and then settlers had already been in the Congo for several decades. The colony of the French Congo was created in 1882; it will join French Equatorial Africa in 1910. From 1899, the Congo is ceded to concessionary companies, many of which exploit rubber.
It was the Compagnie française du Haut Congo, a trading company, which in 1899 obtained the concession of a territory of approximately 36,000 square kilometers including Jane's birthplace. His father works there. The year after the birth of his daughter, he was recruited by the Société des Sultanats du Haut-Oubangui, which operated in the rubber and ivory trade. He then moved to Bangassou, in the south-east of the current Central African Republic, and took Jane with him.
Jane will now accompany her father everywhere. In 1912, during a stay in Paris, Michel officially recognized her as his legitimate daughter. Two years later, when the First World War broke out, he returned to Paris with her. This is where Jane, then eight years old, will finish growing up. She studied at the Jules-Ferry high school and obtained her baccalaureate in 1925; which, at the time, was not obvious for a young black woman confronted with both sexism and racism.
In 1927, Jane Vialle married Marcel Beauvois, whom she divorced in 1940 never to remarry. After her baccalaureate and her marriage, the young woman took a job as secretary-editor at the news agency Opéra Mundi. Subsequently, from 1940, she worked in Marseilles for the newspaper Confidences, then wrote stories and short stories for African newspapers.
In Marseille, at the start of the Second World War, Jane frequented a hostel for African and Asian students, where she met committed people who had entered the resistance. She is particularly close to Jean Gemähling, head of the information network of the resistance movement Combat, of which she becomes the secretary. In turn, Jane enters into resistance. Having become a spy, she works to collect information on the movements of Nazi troops across Europe.
Jane was arrested in January 1943 and held in Baumettes prison. Tried in December of the same year for "activities harmful to National Defence", she was finally released. Upon her release, she resumed contact with the Combat network, and became Jean Gemähling's secretary again. After the war, she will be awarded the Resistance Medal for her actions.
Journalist and senator
After the war, Jane Vialle became a journalist for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and worked as a correspondent for newspapers in French West Africa. Subsequently, she also contributed to the journal of the Association des Femmes de l’Union Française d’Outre-Mer et de Métropole, which she founded in 1948; she mentions in particular the role of women in the resistance movements and the importance of the education of women.
Driven by her desire to work for Africa, Jane also entered politics. In Oubangui-Chari (current Central African Republic), in 1946 she founded the political party Association Pour l’Evolution de l’Afrique Noire. In 1947, she was elected senator as an independent candidate before joining the socialist group. In the Senate, she meets another resistant black senator, Eugénie Éboué-Tell. Both strive to work for equality and against racism. From this year 1947, with other senators from overseas, they tabled a motion denouncing the inequalities of treatment "between the advisers of the Republic of the metropolis and those from Overseas".
Also in 1947, Jane Vialle and Eugénie Éboué-Tell worked together on a motion for a resolution so that the search for paternity be applied overseas as well as in mainland France, in order to protect mixed-race children who were often abandoned by their white fathers. Jane will testify:“I myself am the daughter of one of those conscientious fathers and a black mother – but when fathers do not want to burden themselves with prolonged responsibility, they abandon them…” . Their proposal would be adopted in 1951.
A political career
Jane Vialle was re-elected in November 1948, with 11 votes out of 16 votes cast. She became a member and then vice-president of the Commission on Overseas France, then of the Commission for Labor and Social Security. In 1950, she joined the National Education Commission, a subject close to her heart as a lever for development. It works to harmonize school programs and improve vocational education.
In 1949, Jane was named a member of the United Nations committee on slavery, for her knowledge of French colonial Africa and the status of African women. She gives lectures and produces a memorandum on slavery in African territories. The lack of progress, however, causes her some frustration and leaves her feeling used.
In 1952, Jane was defeated in the elections by her competitor Hector Riviérez. She died in February 1953, at the age of 46, seriously injured in a plane crash.
The right to live free and equal
"A few days ago, at the Arts et Métiers amphitheater, the Friends of Abbé Grégoire invited a large audience to attend the commemoration of the bicentenary of Abbé Grégoire, "the friend of men of all colors”, the wrestler, the defender of men of all religions and races.
Today we will officially celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where it says, in its article 2, first chapter:"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms proclaimed in the this Declaration without distinction of any kind, including race, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or any other status”.
It is a pity to note that, in front of such great examples, one coming from a Frenchman who fought all his life for Individual freedom, for the equality of sexes and races; the other, coming from the common work of all the nations that have come together in France to draw up this magnificent Declaration of the Rights of Man, it is a pity that France (which has always been the refuge of all the oppressed, which has always been at the forefront of liberating and egalitarian ideas) can still endure in some of its territories, facts that revolt the egalitarian sense of any free man.
From Gregory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thousands of men died so that today we all have the right to live free and equal without suffering prejudice because of religion or the color.
We would like France, which has been the standard-bearer of these noble principles, not to be ashamed of some of its servants today. »
The Right to Live. Jane Vialle, February 1953