Alain Leroy Locke (September 13, 1885 – June 9, 1954) was an Americanwriter, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts. Distinguished as the first African American Rhodes Scholar in 1907, Locke was the philosophical architect —the acknowledged "Dean"— of the Harlem Renaissance. As a result, popular listings of influential African-Americans have repeatedly included him. On March 19, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed: "We're going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe."
In 1907, Locke graduated from Harvard University with degrees in English and philosophy, and was honored as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and recipient of the prestigious Bowdoin Prize. After graduation, he was the first African-American selected as a Rhodes Scholar (and the last to be selected until 1960). At that time, Rhodes selectors did not meet candidates in person, but there is evidence that at least some selectors knew he was African-American. On arriving at Oxford, Locke was denied admission to several colleges because of his race, perhaps because several Rhodes Scholars from the American South refused to live in the same college or attend events with Locke. He was finally admitted to Hertford College, where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin, from 1907–1910. In 1910, he attended the University of Berlin, where he studied philosophy.
Locke wrote from Oxford in 1910 that the "primary aim and obligation" of a Rhodes Scholar "is to acquire at Oxford and abroad generally a liberal education, and to continue subsequently the Rhodes mission [of international understanding] throughout life and in his own country. If once more it should prove impossible for nations to understand one another as nations, then, as Goethe said, they must learn to tolerate each other as individuals".
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 that these are not objectively true or false, and therefore not universal. Locke received his PhD in philosophy in 1918.
Locke returned to Howard University as the chair of the department of philosophy. During this period, he began teaching the first classes on race relations, leading to his dismissal in 1925. After being reinstated in 1928, Locke remained at Howard until his retirement in 1953. Locke Hall, on the Howard campus, is named after him.
Locke promoted African-American artists, writers, and musicians, encouraging them to look to Africa as an inspiration for their works. He encouraged them to depict African and African-American subjects, and to draw on their history for subject material.
The Harlem Renaissance and the "New Negro"
Locke was the guest editor of the March 1925 issue of the periodical Survey Graphic titled "Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro", a special on Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance, which helped educate white readers about its flourishing culture. In December of that year, he expanded the issue into The New Negro, a collection of writings by African Americans, which would become one of his best known works. A landmark in black literature (later acclaimed as the "first national book" of African America), it was an instant success. Locke contributed five essays: the "Foreword", "The New Negro", "Negro Youth Speaks", "The Negro Spirituals", and "The Legacy of Ancestral Arts".
Locke's philosophy of the New Negro was grounded in the concept of race-building. Its most important component is overall awareness of the potential black equality; no longer would blacks allow themselves to adjust themselves or comply with unreasonable white requests. This idea was 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 allowed for fair treatment. Because this was an idea and not a law, its power was held in the people. If they wanted this idea to flourish, they were the ones who would need to "enforce" it through their actions and overall points of view.
While his own writing was sophisticated philosophy, and therefore not popularly accessible, he saw himself as inspiring others in the movement who became more broadly known, like Zora Neale Hurston.
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, then head of the Bahá'í Faith. Shoghi Effendi is reported to have said to Locke, "People as you, Mr. Gregory, Dr. Esslemont and some other dear souls are as rare as diamond."
Locke was gay, and may have encouraged and supported other gay African-Americans who were part of the Harlem Renaissance. However, he was not fully public in his orientation and referred to it as his point of "vulnerable/invulnerability", taken to mean an area of risk and strength in his view.
Death, influence and legacy
After his retirement from Howard University in 1953, Locke moved to New York City. He suffered from heart disease, and after a six-week illness died at Mount Sinai Hospital on June 9, 1954.
Locke was cremated, and his remains turned over to Dr. Arthur Fauset, an anthropologist who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Fauset was Locke's close friend, and executor of his estate. Fauset died in 1983, and the remains were given to his friend, Reverend Sadie Mitchell. Mitchell ministered at African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia. Mitchell retained the ashes until the mid-1990s, when she asked Dr. J. Weldon Norris, a professor of music at Howard University, to take the ashes to Washington, D.C. The ashes then resided at Howard University's Moorland–Spingarn Research Center until 2007. Concerned that the human remains were not properly cared for, the ashes were given to Howard University's W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory, which had extensive experience handling human remains. Locke's ashes, which were stored in a plain paper bag in a simple round metal container, were transferred to a more appropriate small funerary urn. They were locked in a safe to keep them secure.
Howard University officials initially considered having Locke's ashes buried in a niche at Locke Hall on the Howard campus, similar to the way that Langston Hughes' ashes were interred at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City in 1991. But Kurt Schmoke, the university's legal counsel, was concerned about setting a precedent that might lead to other burials at the university. After an investigation revealed no legal problems to the plan, university officials decided the remains should be buried off-site. At first, thought was given to burying Locke beside his mother, Mary Hawkins Locke. But Howard officials quickly discovered a problem: She had been interred at Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C., but that cemetery closed in 1959 and her remains transferred to National Harmony Memorial Park—which failed to keep track of them. (She was buried in a mass grave along with 37,000 other unclaimed remains from Columbian Harmony.)
Howard University eventually decided to bury Alain Locke's remains at historic Congressional Cemetery, and African American Rhodes Scholars raised $8,000 to purchase a burial plot there. Locke was interred at Congressional Cemetery on September 13, 2014. His tombstone reads:
Herald of the Harlem Renaissance
Exponent of Cultural Pluralism
On the back of the headstone is a nine-pointed Bahá'í star (representing Locke's religious beliefs); a Zimbabwe Bird, emblem of the nation Locke adopted as a Rhodes Scholar; a lambda, symbol of the gay rights movement; and the logo of Phi Beta Sigma, the fraternity Locke joined. In the center of these four symbols is an Art Deco representation of an African woman's face set against the rays of the sun. This image is a simplified version of the bookplate that Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas designed for Locke. Below the bookplate image are the words "Teneo te, Africa" ("I hold you, my Africa").
In addition to the books listed below, 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 African Americans in journals such as Opportunity and Phylon. His works, inter alia, include:
"Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro". Survey Graphic 6.6 (March 1, 1925). .
When Peoples Meet: A Study of Race and Culture Contacts. Alain Locke and Bernhard J. Stern, eds. New York: Committee on Workshops, Progressive Education Association, 1942.
The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond. Edited by Leonard Harris. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.
Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures of the Theory and Practice of Race. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1916. Reprinted & edited by Jeffery C. Stewart. Washington: Howard University Press, 1992.
Negro Art Past and Present. Washington: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936. (Bronze Booklet No. 3).
The Negro and His Music. Washington: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936. (Bronze Booklet No. 2).
"The Negro in the Three Americas". Journal of Negro Education 14 (Winter 1944): 7–18.
Negro Spirituals. Freedom: A Concert in Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (1940). Compact disc. New York: Bridge, 2002. Audio (1:14).
Spirituals (1940). The Critical Temper of Alain Locke: A Selection of His Essays on Art and Culture. Edited by Jeffrey C. Stewart. New York and London: Garland, 1983. Pp. 123–26.
The New Negro: An Interpretation. New York: Arno Press, 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, Virginia, 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; also New York: Kennikat Press, 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; also New York: Hacker Art Books, 1940.
"A Collection of Congo Art". Arts 2 (February 1927): 60–70.
"Harlem: Dark Weather-vane". Survey Graphic 25 (August 1936): 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): 210–220.
"Negro Speaks for Himself". The Survey 52 (April 15, 1924): 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): 521–529.
"A Note on African Art". Opportunity 2 (May 1924): 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): 66–68.
The Problem of Classification in the Theory of Value: or an Outline of a Genetic System of Values. PhD dissertation: Harvard, 1917.
Locke, Alain. [Autobiographical sketch.] Twentieth Century Authors. Ed. Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycroft. New York: 1942. P. 837.
The Negro Group. Group Relations and Group Antagonisms. Edited by Robert M. MacIver. New York: Institute for Religious Studies, 1943.
World View on Race and Democracy: A Study Guide in Human Group Relations. Chicago: American Library Association, 1943.
Le rôle du Negro dans la culture des Amerique. Port-au-Prince: Haiti Imprimerie de l'état, 1943.
"Values and Imperatives". American Philosophy, Today and Tomorrow. Ed. Sidney Hook and Horace M. Kallen. New York: Lee Furman, 1935. Pp. 312–33. Reprints: Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1968; Harris, The Philosophy of Alain Locke, 31–50.
"Pluralism and Ideological Peace". Freedom and Experience: Essays Presented to Horace M. Kallen. Edited by Milton R. Konvitz and Sidney Hook. Ithaca: New School for Research and Cornell University Press, 1947. Pp. 63–69.
"Cultural Relativism and Ideological Peace". Approaches to World Peace. Edited by Lyman Bryson, Louis Finfelstein, and R. M. MacIver. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944. Pp. 609–618. Reprint in The Philosophy of Alain Locke, 67–78.
"Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy". Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, Second Symposium. New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, 1942. Pp. 196–212. Reprinted in The Philosophy of Alain Locke, 51–66.
"The Unfinished Business of Democracy". Survey Graphic 31 (November 1942): 455–61.
"Democracy Faces a World Order". Harvard Educational Review 12.2 (March 1942): 121–28.
"The Moral Imperatives for World Order". Summary of Proceedings, Institute of International Relations, Mills College, Oakland, CA, June 18–28, 1944, 19–20. Reprinted in The Philosophy of Alain Locke, 143, 151–152.
"Major Prophet of Democracy". Review of Race and Democratic Society by Franz Boas. Journal of Negro Education 15.2 (Spring 1946): 191–92.
"Ballad for Democracy". Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life 18:8 (Aug. 1940): 228–29.
Three Corollaries of Cultural Relativism. Proceedings of the Second Conference on the Scientific and the Democratic Faith. New York, 1941.
"Reason and Race". Phylon 8:1 (1947): 17–27. Reprinted in Jeffrey C. Stewart, ed. The Critical Temper of Alain Locke: A Selection of His Essays on Art and Culture. New York and London: Garland, 1983. Pp. 319–27.
Values That Matter. Review of The Realms of Value, by Ralph Barton Perry. Key Reporter 19.3 (1954): 4.
"Is There a Basis for Spiritual Unity in the World Today?" Town Meeting: Bulletin of America's Town Meeting on the Air 8.5 (June 1, 1942): 3–12.
"Unity through Diversity: A Bahá'í Principle". The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, Vol. IV, 1930–1932. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1989 . Reprinted in Locke 1989, 133–138. Note: Leonard Harris' reference (Locke 1989, 133 n.) should be emended to read, Volume IV, 1930–1932 (not "V, 1932–1934").
"Lessons in World Crisis". The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, Volume IX, 1940–1944. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1945. Reprint, Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980 .
"The Orientation of Hope". The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, Volume V, 1932–1934. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1936. Reprint in Locke 1989, 129–132. Note: Leonard Harris' reference (Locke 1989, 129 n.) should be emended to read, "Volume V, 1932–1934" (not "Volume IV, 1930–1932").
"A Bahá'í Inter-Racial Conference". The Bahá'í Magazine (Star of the West) 18.10 (January 1928): 315–16.
"Educator and Publicist", Star of the West 22.8 (November 1931) 254–55. [Obituary of George William Cook [Baha'i], 1855–1931].
"Impressions of Haifa". [Appreciation of Baha'i leader, Shoghi Effendi, whom Locke met during his first of two Baha'i pilgrimages to Haifa, Palestine (now Israel)]. Star of the West 15.1 (1924): 13–14; Alaine [sic] Locke, "Impressions of Haifa", in Bahá'í Year Book, Volume One, April 1925 – April 1926, comp. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1926) 81, 83; Alaine [sic] Locke, "Impressions of Haifa", in The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, Volume II, April 1926 – April 1928, comp. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1928; reprint, Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980) 125, 127; Alain Locke, "Impressions of Haifa", in The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, Volume III, April 1928 – April 1930, comp. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada (New York: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1930; reprint, Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980) 280, 282.
"Minorities and the Social Mind". Progressive Education 12 (March 1935): 141–50.
The High Cost of Prejudice. Forum 78 (Dec. 1927).
The Negro Poets of the United States. Anthology of Magazine Verse 1926 and Yearbook of American Poetry. Sesquicentennial edition. Ed. William S. Braithwaite. Boston: B.J. Brimmer, 1926. Pp. 143–151. The Critical Temper of Alain Locke: A Selection of His Essays on Art and Culture. Edited by Jeffrey C. Stewart. New York and London: Garland, 1983. Pp. 43–45.
Plays of Negro Life: A Source-Book of Native American Drama. Alain Locke and Montgomery Davis, eds. New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1927. "Decorations and Illustrations by Aaron Douglas".
"Impressions of Luxor". The Howard Alumnus 2.4 (May 1924): 74–78.
Alain Locke's previously unpublished, posthumous works include:
Locke, Alain. "The Moon Maiden" and "Alain Locke in His Own Words: Three Essays". World Order 36.3 (2005): 37–48. Edited, introduced and annotated by Christopher Buck and Betty J. Fisher. . Four previously unpublished works by Alain Locke:
"The Moon Maiden" (37) [a love poem for a white woman who left him];
"The Gospel for the Twentieth Century" (39–42);
"Peace between Black and White in the United States" (42–45);
"Five Phases of Democracy" (45–48).
Locke, Alain. "Alain Locke: Four Talks Redefining Democracy, Education, and World Citizenship". Edited, introduced and annotated by Christopher Buck and Betty J. Fisher. World Order 38.3 (2006/2007): 21–41.  Four previously unpublished speeches/essays by Alain Locke:
"The Preservation of the Democratic Ideal" (1938 or 1939);
^Cone, James H. (2000). Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998. Beacon Press. p. 152. ISBN9780807009512.
^Locke always gave his year of birth as "1886", and many sources give 1886. He was, however, born in 1885. A note in the Alain Locke Papers (archived at Howard University), discovered by Christopher Buck, offers a firsthand clue as to why Locke represented the year of his birth as 1886 rather than 1885: "In the Alain Locke Papers, there is a note in Locke's handwriting that reads: 'Alain Leroy Locke[:] Alan registered as Arthur (white Phila Vital Statistics owing prejudice of Quaker physician Isaac Smedley to answering question of race. [B]orn 13 So. 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. Sunday between 10 and 11 A.M. September 13, 1885. Called Roy as a child[.] Alain from 16 on. [illegible] First born son. 2nd brother born 1889—lived 2 months. Named Arthur first selected for me.' . . . As to why he represented his year of birth as 1886 rather than 1885, Locke may have wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having future biographers discover that he was registered as white on his birth certificate." (Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke – Faith and Philosophy," Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, Vol 18, Anthony A. Lee General Editor, pp. 11–12 – ISBN 978-1-890688-38-7)
^ ab"A.L. Locke, Howard U. Professor, 67". The Washington Post. June 11, 1954. p. 22.
^"Dr. Alain Locke, Teacher, Author". The New York Times. June 10, 1954. p. 31.
^Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
Akam, Everett. Just One African American on the Current Rhodes Scholarship List. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 30:1 (2000): 58–59.
Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy. Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 2005. 
Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke: Race Leader, Social Philosopher, Bahá'í Pluralist. World Order 36.3 (2005): 7–36. .
Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke in His Own Words: Three Essays. World Order 36.3 (2005): 37–48. . Three previously unpublished essays/speeches by Alain Locke:
"The Gospel for the Twentieth Century" (39–42);
"Peace between Black and White in the United States" (42–45);
"Five Phases of Democracy" (45–48).
Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke. American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies. Supplement XIV. Edited by Jay Parini. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Scribner's Reference/The Gale Group, 2004. 195–219. .
Buck, Christopher and Betty J. Fisher. "Alain Locke: Four Talks Redefining Democracy, Education, and World Citizenship. Edited and introduced by Christopher Buck and Betty J. Fisher. World Order 38.3 (2006/2007): 21–41.  Four previously unpublished speeches/essays by Alain Locke:
"The Preservation of the Democratic Ideal" (1938 or 1939);
"Stretching Our Social Mind" (1944);
"On Becoming World Citizens" (1946);
"Creative Democracy" (1946 or 1947).
Buck, Christopher. "Rare Film Clip of Alain Locke in Washington, D.C. (1937)." 
Buck, Christopher. "Rare Film Clip of Alain Locke at Howard University (1937)." 
Buck, Christopher. "Rare Film Clip of Alain Locke at Harmon Art Exhibit (1933)." 
Buck, Christopher. "Alain Locke: 'Race Amity' and the Bahá'í Faith". Alain Locke Centenary Program. Association of American Rhodes Scholars. Howard University, Washington DC (September 24, 2007). 
Butcher, Margaret J. The Negro in American Culture: Based on Materials Left by Alain Locke Knopf, 1956.
Cain, Rudolph A. Alain Leroy Locke: Crusader and Advocate for the Education of African American Adults. The Journal of Negro Education 64:1 (1995): 87–99.