Author:Murn, Charles

"Art must discover and reveal the beauty which prejudice and caricature have overlaid."


ALAIN LEROY LOCKE was born on September 13, 1885, the only child of Pliny Ishmael Locke (the first black employee of the US Postal Service) and Mary Hawkins Locke, a teacher. He was the first ever African-American Rhodes Scholar and went on to earn a PhD in philosophy from Harvard University in 1918. He was named chair of the Department of Philosophy at Howard University soon after and taught philosophy at the University of Wisconsin and the New School for Social Research. He also served as Inter-American Exchange Professor in Haiti. Credited with founding the Harlem Renaissance (which marks its centennial this year), Locke wrote extensively on philosophy, race, cultural pluralism, arts, and literature.

Locke began as a pragmatist philosopher in the tradition of John Dewey and William James. He was a member of the Baha'i faith, but considered himself "universalist in religion" and philosophically to be "more of a humanist than a pragmatist." Indeed, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin was chaired by Max Otto, one of the earliest and most prominent scientific humanist philosophers. Another prominent humanist philosopher and longtime friend, Horace Kallen, invited Locke for a similar position at the New School. Further, the inclusion of Locke's work'in collections of essays edited by Otto, Kallen, and Sidney Hook (signatory to Humanist Manifesto II) is additional evidence of the humanist character of Locke's philosophy.

Embracing his African heritage, he launched the Harlem Renaissance to document, preserve, and advance African-American culture. He not only wrote about the philosophy of African art and art in general, but promoted exhibitions and collections, both from Africa and of the African diaspora in the US. After being fired by Howard University in 1925 with a handful of other professors demanding equal pay with white professors, Locke focused on developing his notion of the "New Negro." Unlike many other Harlem Renaissance figures, he championed African culture as equal to that of other world regions and celebrated both...

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