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Alain Locke (19452 hits)

Alain Locke


Background and Early Years

Alain LeRoy Locke was born in Philadelphia, on September 13, 1886, to Pliny Locke and Mary Hawkins. In 1902, he graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia and was second in his class. He also attended Philadelphia School of Pedagogy. In 1907, Locke graduated from Harvard University with two Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degrees, one in English and one in philosophy. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar. Locke was denied admission to several Oxford colleges because of his skin color before finally being admitted to Hertford College, where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek and Latin between 1907 and 1910. In 1910, he attended the University of Berlin where he studied philosophy. Locke attended the College de France in Paris in 1911.

Locke received an assistant professorship in English at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., after he graduated. There he interacted with W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson, who helped Locke develop his philosophy on social interactions and institutions.

Locke returned to Harvard in 1916 to work on his doctoral dissertation, “The Problem of Classification in the Theory of Value.” In his thesis, he discusses the causes of opinions and social biases, and says that these biases are not objectively true or false, and therefore not universal. Locke received his Doctoral degree in philosophy in 1918. He then returned to Howard University as the chair of the philosophy department, a position he held until his retirement in 1953. At Howard, he became a distinguished member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

New Negro Philosophy

Locke promoted Black artists, writers and musicians, encouraging them to look to Africa as an inspiration for their works. He encouraged them to depict African and Black-American subjects and to draw on their history for subject material. Locke has been said to have greatly influenced and encouraged author Zora Neale Hurston. Locke edited the March 1925 issue of the periodical, Survey Graphic, which was a special on Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance, and by this he helped educate White readers about the flourishing culture there. Later that year, he expanded the issue and added it to The New Negro that was a collection of writings by Blacks, which would become one of his best known works.

Locke coined this phrase, "The New Negro" when he published this book. His philosophy of the new negro was grounded in the concept of race-building. Its most important component was overall awareness of the potential Black equality; no longer would blacks allow themselves to adjust or comply with unreasonable the requests of a White-majority society. His ideas were based on self-confidence and political awareness. Although in the past the laws regarding equality had been ignored without consequence, Locke's philosophical idea of The New Negro called for enacted fair treatment. Because this was just an idea and not an actual bylaw, its power was held in the people. If they wanted his plan to come to pass, they were the ones who would need to "enforce" it through their actions and overall points of view.

Locke edited the Bronze Booklet series, a set of eight volumes published by Associates in Negro Folk Education in the 1930s. He also reviewed literature written by Blacks in journals such as, Opportunity and Phylon. Margaret J. Butcher's, The Negro in American Culture from 1956, was written with materials left by Locke. At the time of his death, Locke’s legacy stood as a Black writer, philosopher, educator and patron of the arts. He is best known for his writings on and about the Harlem Renaissance. He is unofficially called the "Father of the Harlem Renaissance." His philosophy served as a strong motivating force in keeping the energy and passion of the Harlem movement at the forefront.

Locke was a member of the Bahá'í Faith and declared his belief in Bahá'u'lláh in 1918. It was common to write to `Abdu'l-Bahá to declare one's new faith, and Locke received a letter, or "tablet," from `Abdu'l-Bahá in return. When `Abdu'l-Bahá died in 1921, Locke enjoyed a close relationship with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Although we do not know how much of his philosophy was influenced by the Bahá'í Faith, there are many similarities and themes that the two share.

Published Works

  •  The New Negro (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925)

  • Four Negro Poets (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1927)

  • Plays of Negro Life: a Source-Book of Native American Drama (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1927)

  • A Decade of Negro Self-Expression (Charlottesville, VA, 1928)

  • The Negro in America (Chicago: American Library Association, 1933)

  • Negro Art - Past and Present (Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936)

  • The Negro and His Music (Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936)

  • The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art (Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1940)

  • When Peoples Meet: A Study in Race and Culture Contacts (New York: Committee on Workshops, Progressive Education Association, 1942)

  • Locke, Alain. “A Collection of Congo Art.” Arts 2 (February 1927), pp. 60-70.

  • “Harlem: Dark Weather-vane.” Survey Graphic 25 (August 1936), pp. 457-462, 493-495.

  •  “The Negro and the American Stage.” Theatre Arts Monthly 10 (February 1926): 112-120.

  • “The Negro in Art.” Christian Education 13 (November 1931), pp. 210-220.

  •  “Negro Speaks for Himself.” The Survey 52 (April 15, 1924), pp. 71-72.

  •  “The Negro’s Contribution to American Art and Literature.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140 (November 1928): 234-247.

  • “The Negro’s Contribution to American Culture.” Journal of Negro Education 8 (July 1939), pp. 521-529.

  • “A Note on African Art.” Opportunity 2 (May 1924), pp. 134-138. 

  •  “Our Little Renaissance.” Ebony and Topaz, edited by Charles S. Johnson. New York: National Urban League, 1927. 

  •  “Steps Towards the Negro Theatre.” Crisis 25 (December 1922), pp. 66-68. 

  •  Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Younger Literary Movement.” Crisis 28 (February 1924), pp. 161-163.

Schools Names After Him

  • The Locke High School in Los Angeles

  • The Alain Locke Public School is an elementary school in West Philadelphia

  • Alain Locke Charter Academy in Chicago

  • Alain Locke Elementary School in Gary, Indiana

  •  Locke Hall at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Sources;  Goldsmith, James. Alain Locke. Planet Bahá'í;

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Wednesday, December 5th 2007 at 12:16PM
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The first I have heard of him.
Sunday, March 22nd 2009 at 11:53AM
Monica Halbert
Friday, February 1st 2013 at 7:42PM
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