Alain LeRoy Locke: The Father of the Harlem Renaissance

Photo of Alain Leroy Locke (b. 9/13/1885 - d. 6/9/1954)

Alain Leroy Locke was born on September 13, 1885 in Philadelphia, the only child of Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke. His father was a schoolteacher and graduate of Howard University Law School. In his youth, Locke struggled with rheumatic fever, which left him with permanent heart damage. This condition physically restricted him and led him to pursue more greatly the quieter intellectual activities of reading and studying.

Locke attended Central High School in Philadelphia from 1898 to 1902. He graduated first in his class from Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, a teacher's college, where he earned a Bachelor's degree. He completed Harvard College's four-year course in three years. By 1907, Locke received his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned the prestigious Bowdoin Prize for an English essay. Additionally, he was selected as the first person of African descent to receive the distinction of Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University -- after rigorous  examinations in Greek, Latin and mathematics.

From 1910 to 1911, Locke began studying at the University of Berlin as a graduate student. He started writing about racism, African colonialism and the arts while studying in Europe. In 1912, Locke returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Howard University where he would later become chairman of its philosophy department. He would work at Howard University for 40 years. During his early teaching career at Howard University, Locke pursued a doctorate which he earned in 1918 from Harvard University.


The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Alain Locke, available at Amazon.com
The New Negro was published in 1925 and had a significant impact on the dialogue of Black cultural achievements, which brought him national recognition. In The New Negro, Locke examined the famous Harlem Renaissance for the general reading public. It also became a platform where he attacked the legacy of European supremacy by pointing out the great achievements of Africans. The publication of the book and its acclaim would place Locke at the forefront of "The New Negro Movement."

Alain Leroy Locke, by Winold Reiss, 1925.
Locke received many honors and was in great demand as a writer and lecturer around the country.  A passionate collector of African art and champion of Black theater (Plays of Negro Life, published in 1927), Locke became one of the world's foremost scholars in African studies. In 1954, Howard University started its African Studies Program. It was not a new concept. Thirty years earlier Locke suggested the program to the Howard University administration.

In 1953, Locke moved to New York City after his retirement from Howard University. The next year, on June 9, 1954, he suffered a fatal heart attack derived from his life-long heart problems. As a patron of the arts, Locke's legacy on African American history and culture would impact many generations to come and he would become known as the Father of the Harlem Renaissance.