Alan Locke was born September 13th, 1886 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a distinguished black family with a long history in education. His father Pliny Locke was a graduate of Howard University with a degree in law. And his grandfather Ishmael Locke was a graduate of Cambridge University in Great Britain, and become headmaster of the Institution of Colored Youth in Philadelphia.
After the death of his father in 1892, his family was among the black elite. Locke’s mother was determined to keep it that way by continuing the Victorian upbringing of Alain, her only child. A teacher herself she enrolled him an Ethnic Cultural School and encouraged him to study music and literature.
In 1902 Alain Locke graduated second in his class from Central High School in Philadelphia. Two years later he graduated first in his class from the School of Pedagogy. In 1904 he entered Harvard University. Locke was elected Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 1907 with a degree in philosophy and English. From Harvard he traveled to Oxford University in England and became the first African American to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
Locke returned to the U.S. in 1912, only to find the lack of job opportunities for blacks in a white society. This experience lead to a six month voyage to the South. It was there were he was able to see America’s actual race problem firsthand. It has been stated that this experience sparked his interest in encouraging and interpreting the artistic and cultural expressions of “Negro Life”.
In 1912 Locke was appointed assistant professor of English at Howard University. It was there were he gained the belief that “it was the duty of educated blacks to uplift their race”. So in 1915 Locke petitioned Howard’s trustee’s to establish the first ever course on race relations. Yet it was soon rejected.
Locke became one of the leading architects of the New Negro Movement an Harlem Renaissance. His philosophical interests were focused primarily on...