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
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.


  1. he is so cool i love itn omg i love it c

  2. The 2019 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Biography;
    Winner, National Book Awards 2018 for Nonfiction:

    by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press, 2018)

    Cornel West (Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University) has publicly stated, in this online video: “Towards Oneness”:

    “When you talk about race and the legacy of white supremacy, there’s no doubt that when the history is written, the true history is written, the history of this country, the Bahá’í Faith will be one of the leaven in the American loaf that allowed the democratic loaf to expand because of the anti-racist witness of those of Bahá’í faith. So that there is a real sense in which a Christian like myself is profoundly humbled before Bahá’í brothers and sisters and the Dizzy Gillespie’s and the Alain Locke’s and so forth.” …

    “I have come to have a profound admiration for brothers and sisters of the Bahá’í Faith. I’ve actually met Dizzy Gillespie and he, of course, one of the great artists of the twentieth century, was of Bahá’í Faith, and talked over and over again about what it meant to him.”

    "Alain Locke, of course, probably one of the greatest philosophic minds of the middle part of the twentieth century, was also of Bahá’í Faith, the first Black Rhodes scholar and chairman of the philosophy department at Howard University, for over forty-two years. What I’ve always been taken by is the very genuine universalism of the Bahá’í Faith, one of the first religious groups to really hit racism and white supremacy head on, decades ago. By decades, I mean many decades ago and remain consistent about it.”


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