© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 9: Alain LeRoy Locke (1886-1954)
Outside Link: | AL: Howard University Bibliography |
Page Links: | March 1925 Survey Graphic | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |
| A Brief Biography |
Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 3, 2011
Edited by Alain Locke
With the publication of The New Negro, Locke became the leading theoretician and strategist of the New Negro Movement. Due to the publication of this anthology, critics were forced to take black writing seriously, and it served to unite struggling black authors of that period. Locke was a self-confessed "philosophical midwife" to a generation of black artists and writers. Locke was also a leading figure in the adult education movement of the 1930s.
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As Editor of the Bronze Booklet Series for the Associates in Negro Folk Education, published in 1936, he wrote two of its eight booklets: The Negro and His Music [and]Negro Art: Past and Present.
Other works published between 1913-1941 include: The Negro in New Jersey, Race Contacts and Inter-Racial Relations (1916), The Problem of Classification in Theory Value (1918), The New Negro: An Interpretation (editor) (1925), The Negro in America (bibliography-1933), Frederick Douglass: A Biography of Anti-Slavery (1935), and Four Negro Poets (editor). In 1940 he published an art history book entitled The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artists and the Negro Theme in Art. (1940). In 1942, he coedited When Peoples Meet: A Study in Race and Culture Contacts. Between 1946-47 he served as president of the American Association for Adult Education. Works represented in anthologies include: The Black Aesthetic and Theatre: Essays on the Arts of the Theatre. His unfinished book entitled The Negro in American Culture was finished and published posthumously by Margaret Just Butcher.
The Negro in art; a pictorial record of the Negro artist and of the Negro theme in art. Edited and annotated by Alain Locke. NY: Hacker Art Books, 1968. N6538.N5 L6
Plays of Negro life; a source-book of native American drama. Selected and edited by Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory. Decorations and illus. by Aaron Douglas. Westport, Conn: Negro UP, 1970]. PS627 N4 L6
The Negro and his music. Port Washington, N.Y., Kennikat P, 1968. ML3556.L6 N4
When peoples meet, a study in race and culture contacts. NY: Hinds, Hayden & Eldredge, 1946. CB5 .L6
The new Negro: an interpretation. NY: Arno Press, 1968. E185.82 .L75
The philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem renaissance and beyond. Ed. Leonard Harris. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989. E185.97 .L79 P48
"American Literary Tradition and the Negro." Modern Quarterly 3.3 (May-Jul 1926): 215-22.
"Self-Criticism: The Third Dimension in Culture." Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Wintz, Cary D. New York, NY: Garland, 1996. 463.
Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Buck, Christopher. Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy. Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 2005.
Charles, John C. "What Was Africa to Him? Alain Locke, Cultural Nationalism, and the Rhetoric of Empire during the New Negro Renaissance." in Tarver, Australia and Barnes, Paula C. eds. New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005.
Charras, Francoise. "The West Indian Presence in Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925)." in Fabre, Geneviève and Feith, Michel. eds. Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001.
Danisch, Robert. Pragmatism, Democracy, and the Necessity of Rhetoric. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007.
Dawahare, Anthony. "The Specter of Radicalism in Alain Locke's The New Negro." in Mullen, Bill V. and Smethurst, James. eds. Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003.
Harris, Leonard. The philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem renaissance and beyond. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989. E185.97 .L79 P48
Nelson, Emmanuel S. "Alain Locke (1886-1954)." in Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT Greenwood, 2000.
Soto, Michael. "Teaching The New Negro.' in Soto, Michael. ed. Teaching the Harlem Renaissance: Course Design and Classroom Strategies. NY: Peter Lang, 2008.
Stewart, Jeffrey C. ed. The Critical temper of Alain Locke: A selection of his essays on art and culture. NY: Garland, 1983.
Thaggert, Miriam. Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2010.
Washington, Johnny. Alain Locke and Philosophy. Greenwood, 1986.
Witalec, Janet. ed. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
| Top |Alain Locke (1886-1954): A Brief Biography
In 1925 Alain Locke edited a special issue of Survey Graphic dedicated to contemporary black writers. He soon released this literary anthology as The New Negro, one of many events said to birth the Harlem Renaissance. This anthology is just one of many contributions Locke made in an effort to expose black culture to white society in the hope of earning equality for his people.
Alain Leroy Locke was born September 13, 1886, in Philadelphia to teachers Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke. He attended the Central High School of Philadelphia, later attending Harvard University where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Philosophy in 1907. He was the first African-American Rhodes scholar and continued his studies at Oxford University from 1907-1910 and University of Berlin from 1910-1911 after which he returned to the United States. In 1913 he joined Howard University first as a professor of English and later as a professor of philosophy. He returned to Harvard University and obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy in1918. The same year he received his Ph.D., Locke converted to the Baha'i faith. He returned to Howard University where he became chair of the philosophy department.
As a philosopher and an African-American Locke was concerned with the racial problems in the United States and around the world. Johnny Washington discusses Locke as philosopher in Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism. Locke's philosophical work focused on the theories of value relativism and cultural pluralism. He developed his theory of value relativism in his essay "Values and Imperatives" (1935), discussing how values have origin in specific feeling or attitude, and those values should be studied in an historical, social, and cultural context. Cultural pluralism is the theory that many unique cultures could live together without being assimilated by the dominant culture. These theories are intended to avoid dogmatism and absolutism, which he felt were responsible for oppression of minorities. Instead he wanted minorities to be treated with respect, concern, and understanding. Borrowing Josiah Royce's idea of "loyalty to loyalty" Locke believed in reciprocity between cultures. To best summarize Alain Locke's theory concerning cultural equality one should review his two principles of cultural relativism: (1) the principle of cultural reciprocity, which acknowledges the highly composite nature of all modern cultures; (2) the principle of limited cultural convertibility, which acknowledges that the organic selectivity and assimilative capacity of a borrowing culture becomes a limiting criterion for cultural exchange.
As self-proclaimed midwife to the Harlem Renaissance, Locke promoted the work of young African-American artists. He gave aid to Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, as well as others. David Levering Lewis notes a preferential treatment of male students and artists, though Locke did introduce Zora Neale Hurston as well as the formerly mentioned artists to Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white patron, who supported Locke financially through most of the 1920s. Ironically, he was later relieved when the Depression forced white patrons to cease funding because he felt they promoted new versions of old stereotypes rather than great art.
Locke agreed with the W.E.B. Du Bois idea of a Talented Tenth, an intellectual group of minorities that would lead white America to accept their black counterparts as equals. This was to be done through the arts, specifically literature and music. However, Locke differed from Du Bois on the purpose of art. Du Bois believed that the purpose of African-American art was to act as propaganda, that in fact art is propaganda. Locke felt that art serves the purpose of self-expression and spiritual growth. His argument against propaganda is that "it perpetuates the position of group inferiority even in crying out against it. For it leaves and speaks under the shadow of a dominant majority whom it harangues, cajoles, threatens or supplicates." (Linnemann 93) Seemingly contradicting himself, he did believe good art could be propaganda, explaining "Good art is sound and honest propaganda, while obvious and dishonest propaganda is bad art." (96) While both believed in an elite group, Du Bois favored a political elite while Locke favored a cultural elite. Locke felt that by demonstrating black culture's contribution to U.S. and world culture, African-Americans would be accepted by their oppressors as equal.
Both Du Bois and Locke believed black culture and heritage to be the best subject matter to portray the African-American. Locke argued that high-art could be and has been derived from folk culture. Black masses were the repository of cultural and spiritual energy, and it was the duty of the Talented Tenth to harness that culture and energy. In his book The Negro and His Music (1935), Locke argued that folk music (spirituals, blues, and jazz) was the greatest contribution to American culture. In it he developed a theory of black music as the only true original folk music of the United States. He attempted to establish aesthetic norms in discussing black folk music, and gave praise for the music's form, rhythm, harmony, and theme. Locke praised the black musician for being able to improvise as well as read score. His attention to art was not limited to that produced by African-Americans; he also had a great affection for African art.
Locke believed in an African legacy, a cultural inheritance of Africa. In his arguments on folk-art as high-art, Locke described the dominant arts of Africa: "decorative and craft arts such as sculpture, metalworking, and weaving were technical, rigid, controlled, and disciplined." (106) Though the dominant African-American arts were literature and music, he nevertheless believed in an artistic heritage, citing rhythm to be the most powerful. He proclaimed the need for African-Americans to educate themselves on the art and history of Africa. His beliefs on education rely greatly on his philosophies of value relativism and cultural pluralism.
Locke also wrote a number of essays concerning the problem of African-American education. His essay "The Need for a New Canon in Education" (1950) described three problems in education: (1) a lack of integration of knowledge and curriculum; (2) knowledge not brought to bear on the social-cultural realm; (3) the result of which was a breakdown in culture. His answers were to tie education to practical demands of living, broaden social visions, and sharpen critical faculties of the students. Though he argued for integration in schools, he also found value in segregated black colleges. He argued that these colleges provided black leaders for black youth and promoted knowledge of black culture.
The man largely credited with promoting the Harlem Renaissance, was himself a renaissance man. Suffering from recurrent heart problems, Alain Locke passed away on June 10, 1954.
Linneman, Russel J. ed. Alain Locke: Reflections on a Modern Renaissance Man. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1982.
Washington, Johnny. Alain Locke and Philosophy: A Quest for Cultural Pluralism. NY: Greenwood Press. 1986.
Study Questions (from Heath's Instructor Edition)
1. What does Locke mean by the "new" negro? How does this figure differ from the "old" negro? To what extent does this figure correspond to an actual social type, and to what extent might it be an idealization? What might Locke's purpose be in idealizing the new negro?
2. What does Locke hope to achieve with his essay?
3. What concerns does Locke share with other writers of his day?
4. What influence do you think Locke had on the artists of the New Negro Movement? Can this influence be seen today? What issues of importance to Locke and the New Negro Movement generally are still of concern today?
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Alaine Locke " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap9/locke.html (provide page date or date of your login).
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