Alain Locke

(1885–1954)

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Alain LeRoy Locke (1885–1954) was a philosopher, writer, and educator born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a family of educators and distinguished civil servants.

Locke, a sickly but bright child, excelled academically throughout his schooling. He graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1907 and became the first African American to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar. As a Rhodes Scholar we was admitted to Hertford College at Oxford where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin. He also studied philosophy at the University of Berlin in Germany.

As work was limited for African American scholars, he joined the faculty of Howard University in 1912,teaching English. After receiving a PhD in philosophy at Harvard in 1918, Locke returned to Howard and formed one of the first philosophy departments at a historically black college.

The New Negro: An Interpretation edited by Alain LeRoy Locke, 1925.

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Locked created a booklet series, Bronze Booklets on the History, Problems, and Cultural Contributions of the Negro, based in social science and race relations and partnered with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to educate the masses. The booklets became a standard reference for teaching African American history.

Locke is best known as the creator of the philosophical concept New Negro which would initiate the Harlem Renaissance (1925–1939), a period of significant contributions of African American artists, writers, poets, and musicians. In 1925, he edited the book, The New Negro: An Interpretation, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays on African and African American art and literature. Locke also organized traveling art exhibitions of African American artists and mentored many talented writers and poets including Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Locke identified as gay among his friends and peers, but never disclosed this information publicly. He also reportedly encouraged and supported African American LGBTQ+ artists and writers during the Harlem Renaissance. Locke retired from Howard University in 1953 and moved to New York City. After being in ill health for some time, Locke died from complications of heart disease on June 9, 1954, at age 69.

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