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LIT History: Alain Locke was the Father of the Harlem Renaissance

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The LIT History Series is for the Legends, Innovators and Trailblazers that have shaped our culture. I love history, and in turn, I love black history. So much of our culture has been defined by those who've come before us, so I write this to capture and chronicle our narratives. Black history should be celebrated for more than just one month out of the year. The Harlem Renaissance is one of those moments in time that resonates deep within black history. I mean, the 1920's was pretty lit in terms of artistry, fashion, and literature. I'm moderately obsessed with the era. When we think of the Harlem Renaissance, we usually think of notable icons such as: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston, rightfully so. But what about Alain Locke, the influential author and philosopher who inspired these Harlem Heroes alongside his friend W.E.B. Du Bois?
Photo: atlanta black star
Photo: atlanta black star
Photo: atlanta black star I became familiar with Alain Locke at Howard University and took classes in Locke Hall. I started to develop a deep interest in all of the people whose names were on the campus buildings (talk about a rabbit hole), and Dr. Locke became the subject of my first investigation. Dr. Locke is widely regarded as the originator of the Harlem Renaissance. He attended Harvard University in 1904 and became the first Black student to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship. There wouldn't be another black student to earn this honor for another 50 years. In 1912, he returned to the U.S. from his overseas studies and became an assistant professor at Howard University. He also joined the newly formed Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Locke left this position to return to Harvard for his Ph.D in Philosophy then back to Howard's faculty, eventually becoming chair of the Philosophy Department. It was here where Dr. Locke served as a mentor to his notable students, including Ossie Davis and Zora Neale Hurston.

Listen to Ossie Davis talk about Dr. Locke's influence on Black culture and mentoring Langston Hughes.

Dr. Locke's cultural contributions include his book, The New Negro, and his works on promoting diversity and race relations. While he was close friends with W.E.B Du Bois, their views on Black culture sometimes differed. Locke believed that the responsibility of the black artist was to express their individuality, not necessarily to uplift the race. Martin Luther King, Jr. praised Locke as an intellectual leader on par with Plato and Aristotle. Though his story often goes unnoticed, history proves how vital Dr. Locke was to the Harlem Renaissance, black people and the culture as a whole.

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