Alain Locke: Intellectual colossus epitomized ‘The New Negro’

AJC Sepia Black History Month


Alain Leroy Locke, born in Philadelphia in the late 1880s, is heralded as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” for his publication in 1925 of “The New Negro”  an anthology of poems, essays, plays, music and portraiture by white and black artists, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

“The New Negro” had a significant impact on the dialogue of Black cultural achievements, which brought Locke national recognition, according to blackhistoryheroes.com. 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.”

»Related: Emory University’s Chelsea Jackson latest Rhodes Scholar

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, Locke saw black aesthetics differently than some of the leading Negro intellectuals of his day. Most notably, his friend W.E.B. Du Bois, a fellow Harvard Ph.D., thought it was a role and responsibility of the Negro artist to offer a representation of the black experience that might help in the quest for social uplift. Locke, however, argued that the primary responsibility and function of the artist is to express his or her own individuality, and in doing that to communicate something of universal human appeal.

Locke taught philosophy at Howard University for more than 40 years, most of it as chairman of the department. He helped organize the Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa there and was one of the early members of the emergent Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity founded in 1914.

Locke was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard University, where he earned undergraduate and doctorate degrees and became the first known gay Rhodes scholar, as well as the first black Rhodes scholar. It would be 50 years before there was another black Rhodes scholar.

Locke was a mentor to Ossie Davis, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, among others, according to blavity.com. According to NPR, he also inspired Martin Luther King Jr., who praised him as an intellectual leader on par with Plato and Aristotle.

Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and in the Metro section on Fridays and Sundays. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Why car horns, planes and sirens might be bad for your heart
Why car horns, planes and sirens might be bad for your heart

The roar of a jet plane, the rumble of a big rig, that shrill scream from the siren of a speeding emergency vehicle: The common but loud noises that keep you awake at night and agitate you throughout the day may have a notable effect on your cardiovascular health, experts say. Researchers say noise pollution may increase the risk of heart disease,...
A cancer ‘vaccine’ is completely eliminating tumors in mice
A cancer ‘vaccine’ is completely eliminating tumors in mice

A new cancer treatment experiment at Stanford University that used immune-stimulators to target tumors in mice had remarkably encouraging results. After injecting a combination of two immune boosters directly into solid mouse tumors, the research team said the vaccination eliminated all traces of the specifically targeted cancer from the animal&rsquo...
Atlanta Opera takes a comic turn with ‘Daughter of the Regiment’
Atlanta Opera takes a comic turn with ‘Daughter of the Regiment’

“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” or so the famous last words ascribed to English actor Edmund Kean tell us. Making audiences laugh has certainly never been easy, but making them laugh while hitting nine high C’s in a row is just one of the extraordinary challenges of performing in a production of Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto...
Bacteria in milk, beef may be linked to rheumatoid arthritis
Bacteria in milk, beef may be linked to rheumatoid arthritis

Milk is good for bones, but joints are another story for some people, according to a new study. A strain of bacteria commonly found in milk and beef may be a trigger for developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in individuals who are genetically at risk, according to researchers at the University of Central Florida. The bacteria — mycobacterium avium...
My grandmother was Italian. Why aren’t my genes Italian?
My grandmother was Italian. Why aren’t my genes Italian?

Maybe you got one of those find-your-ancestry kits over the holidays. You’ve sent off your awkwardly collected saliva sample, and you’re awaiting your results. If your experience is anything like that of me and my mom, you may find surprises — not the dramatic “switched at birth” kind, but results that are really different...
More Stories