"For generations the Negro has been the peasant matrix of that section of America which has most undervalued him, and here he has contributed not only materially in labor and in social patience, but spiritually as well.... In less than half a generation it will be easier to recognize this, but the fact remains that a leaven of humor, sentiment, imagination and tropic nonchalance has gone into the making of the South from a humble, unacknowledged source."
Alain Locke was born September 13, 1886 in Philadelphia. His grandfather, Ishmael Locke, had studied at Cambridge and established schools in Liberia before becoming the headmaster of a school in Providence, Rhode Island. He attended Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude with degrees in History and philosophy in three years as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and became the first African American Rhodes Scholar, studying at Hertford College of Oxford University. He then attended the University of Berlin and the College de France.
In 1912 Locke began teaching English at Howard University, where W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson were also on the faculty. In 1917 he returned to Harvard, earning a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation was on the premise that prejudices are not objectively true or false, and therefore are not universal. This was the beginning of his theory of "cultural pluralism", the view that the uniqueness of different styles and values within a culture are to be maintained and appreciated.
Locke returned to Howard as a full professor of philosophy but his desire for a curriculum including African American studies led to conflicts with the university president and all-white board of directors, and he was dismissed in 1925. Protests by students, alumni and the African American press led to his reinstatement but he did not return until three years later when an African American, Mordecai Johnson, was named president.
Harlem Renaissance to the attention of white America, and mentored writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Throughout his lifetime he published over 300 books and articles, including an annual list of books relevant to African American culture.
Locke was never able to promote African American studies at Howard, but he was successful in creating a department of social sciences in 1935 and a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1953. He died in New York City on June 9, 1954 at the age of 67. He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
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"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.