A Look Back in History: Alain Locke — Educator, Father of the Harlem Renaissance

The Father of the Harlem Renaissance

Alain LeRoy Locke was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 13, 1886. He attended Central High School and the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy in 1902. Locke graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1907. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He earned degrees in English and philosophy.

Locke faced significant barriers as an African-American despite being accomplished in academia. Even though Locke was the first African-American Rhodes scholar, he was denied admission to several colleges at the University of Oxford because of his race. Then in 1907, he gained entry into Hertford College, where he studied for four years.

Locke was a distinguished scholar and educator. During his lifetime, he developed the notion of “ethnic race.” Locke believed that race was just a social and cultural category rather than a biological one.

Locke was dubbed the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” because he emphasized the need for Black artists to explore African culture. Through his efforts, the Harlem Renaissance movement gained national attention and historical significance. He wrote on the Harlem Riots of 1935 and worked tirelessly to understand the social realities of Harlem with figures. Locke published his work in The Survey Graphic Harlem Number published March, 1925.

Locke edited the Bronze Booklet that showcases the works of African-Americans. For two decades, he reviewed literature by and about blacks in Opportunity and Phylon. He regularly wrote about Blacks for Britannica’s Book of the Year. His works include Four Negro Poets (1927), Frederick Douglass, a Biography of Anti-Slavery (1935), Negro Art — Past and Present (1936), and The Negro and His Music (1936).

In December 1925, Locke published The New Negro: An Interpretation. Locke coined this phrase, “The New Negro,” in 1925. He believed that there was a potential for Black equality. No longer would Blacks allow themselves to adjust or comply with the unreasonable requests of a white-majority society.

Today, the Alain Locke Charter Academy in Chicago is one of the country’s most successful charter schools. The school was founded in September 1999.

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