Alain Locke: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will review the biography of Alain Locke. We will then discuss his philosophy on race relationships, his role in the Harlem Renaissance, and some of his writings.


Alain Locke was born in 1885 in Philadelphia, PA. In 1904, he received his Bachelor of Arts in English and published his first writing, 'Moral Training in Elementary Schools.' After he received his BA, Locke attended Harvard. In 1907, Locke became the first African American Rhodes Scholar, a scholarship offered to students to study at Oxford University. Although he had received the scholarship, Locke still struggled to be accepted at Oxford because of his race. He eventually returned to Harvard to complete his Ph.D.

Locke began his teaching career at Howard University where he taught English, philosophy, and education. He also began to shape his philosophy on race, starting with his lectures interracial relationships. Locke earned his second Ph.D. in philosophy from Howard University. In 1925, Locke published his most famous writing, 'The New Negro: An Interpretation', which is believed to be the start of the Harlem Renaissance. That same year, Locke was fired from Howard for trying to achieve equal pay for black employees. He later returned to Howard and continued to write and expand his philosophy on race relations. In 1953, he retired from Howard University, and passed away the next year.

Locke's Philosophy

Alain Locke focused his writings on his beliefs of race and culture. In 1925, he published The New Negro an anthology of poetry, essays, plays, and music of black artists. The book is divided into two sections, 'The Negro Renaissance' which contains writings by many of the central Harlem Renaissance writers and 'The New Negro in a New World' which contains political and social analysis. This publication is believed to have started the Harlem Renaissance Movement, a movement of black writers and artists that led to a renewal of black culture. Many people believe that it not only started the Harlem Renaissance, but that it introduced the world to African American thought.

Locke's philosophy developed the idea of ethnic race. He saw race as more than heredity, but also social and cultural. Locke believed that people would work together in a group, forming a race, but also work to destroy racial categories, meaning a race could develop a specific culture apart from historical context. This idea of culture led to his encouragement of racial pride. Finally, he believed that black artists should express their own individuality by embracing African heritage, but appeal to all races by developing universal topics.

Locke also strongly believed in adult education, particularly learning about one's culture and race in adulthood. He began to publish books for adult education which focused on black history and accomplishments. Locke also focused his studies on values and their role in how we function in our daily lives and social issues, including the role of Harlem and race.

Locke's Poems And Books

Most of Alain Locke's writings are his books.

While his most famous writing is 'The New Negro', he continued to write essays critiquing other writers, and published many volumes on his social commentary of race. One of his most well-known writings on his philosophy, 'Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Race', focused on how blacks and whites could work together and live in a multi-ethnic society. His writings really focused on all aspects of African American culture, including literature, politics, the arts, and social commentary.

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