Alain Leroy Locke, 1885-1954, Herald of the Harlem Renaissance, Finally Being Laid to Rest

Alain Leroy Locke, a Bahá’í, “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance (1919–34), chair of the Philosophy Department at Howard University, and the first African American Rhodes scholar (1907), will finally be laid to rest on September 13, 2014, at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. Locke was born in 1885 and died in 1954.

Alain_LeRoy_LockeGeorge R. Keys, Jr., an attorney and a member of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars (AARS), writes that in 2007, the AARS “conceived and planned a symposium in conjunction with Howard University on the centenary of the election of Alain Leroy Locke as a Rhodes Scholar from Pennsylvania.” He goes on the explain that the AARS conducted archival research at Rhodes House in Oxford, England, and also at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, in Washington, DC, USA, which contains many of Locke’s papers.

One result of the research was Jack C. Zoeller’s “Alain Locke at Oxford: Race and the Rhodes Scholarships” published in The American Oxonian, XCIV, No. 2 (Spring 2007). A second result of the research was finding that Locke’s cremated remains were still in the custody of Howard University.

Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth, in Alain L. Locke: Biography of a Philosopher [(University of Chicago Press, 2008) 1] summarize “Locke’s accomplishments” this way:

he was the first African American to win a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford (where he wrote on the philosophy of value), he was a leader in the New Negro movement, and he produced a formative commentary on African American literature and the arts. He championed African art as a source of aesthetic inspiration, and his philosophical papers on cultural pluralism, democracy, and value theory influenced readers in diverse fields. He offered personal advice and support to dozens of writers, painters, singers, and others with artistic gifts and ambitions. In addition, he taught for four decades at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he headed the philosophy department, founded the literary magazine and the theater company, and gathered the collection of African art that forms the core of the university’s holding in this field.

Harris and Molesworth go on to say (1) that

In 1948, near the end of his teaching career—and near the end of his life—Alain Locke was asked to teach at the New School in New York City. Given virtual carte blanche, Locke offered three courses directly connected to his life’s work: “The Philosophy of Value,” “Race Relations,” and “The Philosophy of Aesthetic Experience.” Virtually everything Locke had written revolved around these three subjects, which together form a thread connecting the activities and accomplishments that made Locke the most influential African American intellectual born between W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr.

Locke became a Bahá’í in 1918 and remained one until his death in 1954. Four of his talks were published in six Bahá’í World volumes. He once made an extensive Bahá’í teaching trip with Louis G. Gregory, a prominent African American Bahá’í teacher. For eleven years he served on the Bahá’í National Committee on Racial Amity. He helped organize and spoke at the first Race Amity Conference in 1921 and at other Bahá’í events, including one attended by some three thousand at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.

In 1921 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, in a tablet, praised Locke as a “distinguished personage.” In 1924, in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Locke is referred to as a soul “as rare as a diamond” and one of those “chosen” to render “spiritual nourishment” to the “lifeless world in this present stage.” In 1930, in a letter thanking Locke for his suggestions for Shoghi Effendi’s translation of Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitáb-i-Iqán, Shoghi Effendi added a postscript in his own hand, saying, “I have always greatly admired your exceptional abilities & capacity to render distinguished services to the Faith.”

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Acknowledgment:
Our thanks go to Christopher Buck, who has written extensively about Alain Locke, for directing us to the biography of Locke written by Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth (Alain L. Locke: Biography of a Philosopher) and to his own article “The Baha’i ‘Race Amity’ Movement and the Black Intelligentsia in Jim Crow America: Alain Locke and Robert S. Abbott,” Baha’i Studies Review 17, 3–46. We gleaned details in the penultimate paragraph about Locke’s Bahá’í activities from Buck’s article, section 7, called “The Baha’i race amity movement and Alain Locke.” Details in the final paragraph come from the same section, page 29.