Locke's essay, "Harlem,"
from the March 1925 issue of Survey Graphic.
Alain Locke, the first African American to win a Rhodes scholarship,
became a philosophy professor at Howard University in Washington,
D.C. Without his backing, many black artists of the 1920s and 1930s
might never have achieved the degree of success they did.
Black art and literature, Locke believed, should not conform to the standards
dictated by whites; instead, both forms of expression should portray African-American
life realistically and without sentiment.
After speaking at Opportunity magazine's first awards dinner in November
1924, Locke was invited by Paul Kellogg, editor of Survey Graphic magazine,
to compile a special issue that would capture the creative ferment of the African-American
renaissance then under way in New York City. Entitled "Harlem: Mecca of
the New Negro," the special issue's publication in March 1925—and
its expansion later that year into a book, The New Negro: An Interpretation—helped
to launch the careers of writers Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude
McKay, and Langston Hughes, as well as artist Aaron Douglas.
Works included in The New Negro reflected Locke's belief that black
dramatists, artists, and writers should look to their African heritage—specifically
folklore, spirituals, jazz, and African sculpture—for sources of inspiration.
In Hurston, Locke found an artist whose roots reached deep into the folk heritage
of her native Florida. Locke published Hurston's first short story, "John
Redding Goes to Sea," in The Stylus, Howard University's student
literary magazine. He also lauded her talents to Charles S. Johnson, who urged
Hurston to come to New York.
Locke continued to serve as a "philosophical midwife" (his
term) to black artists throughout his life. Not only did he put struggling
black talents in touch with one another, he also introduced Hurston,
Hughes, Douglas, and many others to wealthy patron Charlotte Mason,
who provided generous financial support of the African-American arts.
And as an adviser to the Harmon Foundation, Locke coaxed that organization
to subsidize African-American artists.
Read Locke's essay,
from the March 1925 issue of Survey Graphic on the
University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center.