Alain LeRoy Locke (September 13, 1885[1] – June 9, 1954) was an American 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 Movement at the forefront.[2]

Alain Locke was born in Pennsylvania on September 13, 1886 to Pliny Ishmael Locke (1850-1892) and Mary Hawkins Locke (1853 – 1922).[1] In 1902, he graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, second in his class. He also attended Philadelphia School of Pedagogy.[3] 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 skin color 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 attended the College de France in Paris in 1911.

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

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 Ph.D. 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. At Howard, he became a distinguished member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

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 the flourishing culture there. 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 real fair treatment. Because this was just an idea and not an actual bylaw, 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.


Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris , Charles Molesworth

The New Negro : Voices of the Harlem Renaissance by Alain Locke (Editor), Arnold Rampersad (Introduction)

The Dilemma of Ethnic Identity: Alain Locke’s Vision of Transcultural Societies by Chielozona Eze

Philosophy Of Alain Locke by Leonard Harris

Alain Leroy Locke: Race, Culture, and the Education of African American Adults by Rudolph Alexander Kofi Cain

Alain Locke: Faith And Philosophy by Christopher Buck

Alain Locke: Reflections on a Modern Renaissance Man by Russell J. Linnemann

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