1885 - 1954

"Art must discover and reveal the beauty which prejudice and caricature have overlaid."

- Alain Locke

Born into a family of teachers, Alain Locke completed Harvard’s four year program in three years, graduated second in his 1907 class, was elected into Phi Beta Kappa, and won the school’s most distinguished award, The Bowdoin Prize. Afterwards, Locke became the first African-American to be named a Rhodes Scholar and received his scholarship to Oxford. After receiving his PhD in 1917, Locke became philosophy professor at Howard University, an African American School, where he remained until his retirement. In 1925 he edited The New Negro: An Interpretation – the signature anthology of the Harlem Renaissance and also edited Four Negro Poets (1927).  By this time Locke was actively promoting his theory of ‘cultural pluralism’ which maintained that a democratic society should value the uniqueness of the different styles within that culture, thus encouraging African-American artists to embrace their ancestral and folk traditions. A gay man himself, Locke also helped gay African-American artists like Countee Cullen, to whom he was romantically linked, and Richard Bruce Nugent find pride in their heritage. In the 1930s he established Associates in Negro Folk Education.  As the leading authority on African American culture he wrote Negro Art: Past and Present, The Negro and His Music, and edited The Negro in Art. In 1945 he became the first African American president of the American Association of Adult Education. In 1953 he secured a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Howard University, a major milestone in the history of African American education. In 1954 he was still working on The Negro in American Culture, his definitive study of the contributions of African-Americans to American society, when he died of a heart ailment at age 68. 

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Nations Affiliated United States United Kingdom

Era/Epoch Harlem Renaissance (1919-1929)

Field(s) of Contribution






Media & Communications


Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Dean of the Harlem Renaissance

Howard University's College of Arts and Sciences Main Building Named Alain Locke Hall

Scholar Molefi Kete Asante Named Locke one of the 100 Greatest African Americans

Columbus Salley's Book The Black 100 Named Locke the 36th Most Influential African-American

First African-American Rhodes Scholar (1907)

Harvard University Bowdoin Prize Winner (1907)

First African American American Association of Adult Education President (1945)

Historical Marker Unvieled at Philadelphia's African American Museum (2021)


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Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell