Alain LeRoy Locke

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Alain Leroy Locke
Alain LeRoy Locke.jpg
Locke circa 1946
BornAlain Leroy Locke
(1885-09-13)September 13, 1885
Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 9, 1954(1954-06-09) (aged 68)
OccupationWriter, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts
LanguageEnglish
NationalityAmerican
EducationHarvard University
 
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Alain Leroy Locke
Alain LeRoy Locke.jpg
Locke circa 1946
BornAlain Leroy Locke
(1885-09-13)September 13, 1885
Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 9, 1954(1954-06-09) (aged 68)
OccupationWriter, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts
LanguageEnglish
NationalityAmerican
EducationHarvard University

Alain Leroy Locke (September 13, 1885 – June 9, 1954) was an American writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts. In a popular publication, The Black 100, Alain Locke ranks as the 36th most influential African American ever, past or present. Distinguished as the first African American Rhodes Scholar in 1907, Locke was the philosophical architect—the acknowledged "Dean"—of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of cultural efflorescence connected with the "New Negro" movement from 1919 to 1934. Locke's importance as the ideological genius of the Harlem Renaissance is of great historical moment, immortalized in the Harlem Number of The Survey Graphic 6.6 (1 March 1925), a special issue on race for which Locke served as guest editor. That edition was entitled, Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro, which Locke subsequently recast as an anthology, The New Negro: An Interpretation of Negro Life, published in December 1925. 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". 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."

Early life[edit]

Alain Locke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 13, 1885 to Pliny Ishmael Locke (1850–1892) and Mary Hawkins Locke (1853–1922). 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." [1] In 1902, he graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, second in his class. He also attended Philadelphia School of Pedagogy.[2]

In 1907, Locke graduated from Harvard University with degrees in English and philosophy. He was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar. He formed part of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Locke was denied admission to several Oxford colleges because of his race before finally being 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 received an assistant professorship in English at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. While at Howard University, he became a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

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, a position he held until his retirement in 1953.

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. Locke edited the March 1925 issue of the periodical Survey Graphic, a special on Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance, which helped educate white readers about its flourishing culture.[3] Later 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. His 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. Locke has been said to have greatly influenced and encouraged Zora Neale Hurston.

Religious beliefs[edit]

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."[4]

Legacy[edit]

Schools named after Alain Locke

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Alain LeRoy Locke on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[5]

Established New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Major works[edit]

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:

Posthumous works[edit]

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. [2]. Four previously unpublished works by Alain Locke:

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. [3] Four previously unpublished speeches/essays by Alain Locke:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ (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)
  2. ^ Gates, Lacey. Biography: Alain Leroy Locke, Pennsylvania State University Center for the Book. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  3. ^ Appel, JM. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, May 2, 2009. Locke biography
  4. ^ Buck, Christopher. "Alain Locke – Faith and Philosophy" Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, Vol 18, Anthony A. Lee, General Editor, p.64 – ISBN 978-1-890688-38-7
  5. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]