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Alain LeRoy Locke, Father of the Harlem Renaissance, Honored With New Historical Marker In His Hometown of Philly

Alain LeRoy Locke, Father of the Harlem Renaissance, Honored With New Historical Marker In His Hometown of Philly

His contributions to the culture won’t be forgotten!

Alain LeRoy Locke, the father of the Harlem Renaissance, was honored with a new historical marker in his hometown of Philadelphia, WHYY PBS reports. 

Locke was a South Philadelphia native who attended Philly’s Central High School, earning his first bachelor’s degree from the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy. He received his Ph.D. at Harvard University and made history as the first Black Rhodes Scholar. Locke was a respected literary critic, philosopher, and Howard University professor. He amplified the work of some of the most influential writers and artists of his time, including creators like Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston. 

His 1925 anthology of essays, poems, and drawings, entitled “The New Negro,” was a pivotal piece of literature and earned Locke the title of “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” His essay of the same name created a new narrative around Black Americans, specifically related to “Black consciousness and artistic temperament.” The anthology featured writings from Locke, Langston Hughes, and artists like Aaron Douglas, marking a cultural shift and ushering in the Harlem Renaissance. 

“So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being - a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be ‘kept down,’ or ‘in his place,’ or ‘helped up,’ to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a societal bogey or a social burden,” Locke wrote in his essay. 

This past weekend, officials unveiled a new historical marker honoring Locke. The marker exists in front of the African American Museum in Philly, replacing a former plaque in front of Locke’s childhood home. Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, was among the attendees speaking about the significance of Locke’s legacy. 

“Everybody should know his name. His influence is totally profound, and you know, this is a wonderful intersectionality of a gay and Black man who made an incredible mark on our country and the world,” said Lazin. 

Dagmawi Woubshet, a University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor, said Locke’s anthology represented a shift in a generation who dared to introduce an opposing ideology around Black America into the academic and societal rhetoric. 

“Locke and a group of Black artists and intellectuals proposed otherwise. That Black people were not just a problem of the social sciences or a racial conundrum, but agents, makers of American civilization. And moreover, agents who can will their own individual and collective self-image in different art forms and do so with exceptional talent and innovation,” said Woubshet. 

Despite Locke never speaking publicly about his sexuality, Woubshet also contends that many of the anthology’s featured works helped push the conversation forward around gender and sexual identity because they were “explicit in their homo-erotic value [and] defied the morality of the time.” 

Imani Roach, a Philadelphia-based singer, performed Senegalese pieces inspired by Locke’s work at the ceremony. While she says she was familiar with his impact on Black art and culture, Roach says she had no idea he was a native son of Philadelphia. 

“Having that [historical marker] here so that people can know so that we can claim him as part of our story and we can also be part of his story, is incredibly important,” said Roach. 

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. Locke. Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center/Howard University