On Sept. 13, 1886, world renowned writer and philosopher, Alain LeRoy Locke was born in Philadelphia, Pa., to math teacher and activist, Pliny Ishmael Locke and educator Mary Hawkins Locke.
He was a sickly child with rheumatic fever, but coped by reading a great deal and learning to play the piano and violin. The sickness damaged his heart for life.
In 1902, he graduated second in his class from Central High School in Philadelphia and later graduated from Harvard University with degrees in English and philosophy. He was the first African American Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England.
Upon completing studies, he eventually went on to teach (1912-54) English at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he interacted with W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter Woodson. He also became a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Throughout his career, Locke wrote and edited several works, including “The New Negro: An Interpretation,” “Four Negro Poets,” “A Decade of Negro Self-Expression,” and “Negro Art: Past and Present.” He was also a major contributor to “Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life and Survey Graphic.”
In his time, he became known as the leading promoter and interpreter of the artistic and cultural contributions of African Americans and familiarized White Americans with the Harlem Renaissance. He also stressed the contributions of African people to the world’s civilizations, particularly in Egypt. Because of his efforts, White Americans began to look critically at African American writings and other contributions.
An unusual man, Locke was a part of the Bahá’í faith in 1918 and subscribed to its beliefs and philosophies.
On June 9, 1954, the scholar passed away of a heart condition that had occurred in the spring. At the time of his death, he was working on “The Negro in American Culture,” but he did not complete it. Margaret Just Butcher took on the task and finished his final work.