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Locke, Alain (1885-1954)  
 
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Alain Locke played a crucial role in the development of African-American literature as mentor to Harlem Renaissance writers and as editor of the influential anthology The New Negro (1925). His homosexuality informed his plea for respect of sexual and cultural diversity, but it has often been overlooked or devalued by literary historians.

Locke's expressions of same-sex desire were never made publicly but are well-documented in private letters and autobiographical sketches. Among his contemporaries, his homosexuality was, to quote Leonard Harris's phrase, an "open secret."

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Literary and cultural critics have continued to treat his homosexuality as a secret, attempting to keep it closeted and refusing to acknowledge the key role it played in shaping his aesthetic sensibility. According to Harris, this attitude went as far as hiding those documents in Locke's papers where he candidly discusses his homosexuality and his longing for male companionship.

Locke's literary activity as mentor to other (mostly male) gay or bisexual artists of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen was also informed by desire. Although he is often referred to by others as the "Father of the Harlem Renaissance," he tellingly described himself as the "midwife" of the movement.

Locke's correspondence with Cullen is particularly focused on how the two men lived their homosexuality and on their common interest in Langston Hughes as a possible lover. Locke's conception of same-sex relationships combined Whitman's idea of comradely love with the classic Greek paradigm of a "noble friendship" between older and younger men.

He was born Arthur Locke in Philadelphia on September 3, 1885. His parents, Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke, were freeborn African Americans who both chose careers as educators. His father alternated his teaching profession with jobs as a civil servant.

His family's commitment to education was transmitted to Locke and was partly responsible for his belief that racial differences should be considered irrelevant in the face of learning and working skills.

Locke graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1902. He was admitted to Harvard University, from which he graduated with a double major in philosophy and English in 1907. His degree in philosophy was designated magna cum laude and he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

He was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar (and the only one until the 1960s). Although he was denied entrance to several Oxford Colleges, he finally secured admission to Hertford College, where he studied philosophy, literature, Greek, and Latin from 1907 to 1910.

He also attended the University of Berlin and the Collège de France in Paris before returning to the United States in 1911 to accept an assistant professorship of philosophy and English at Howard University in Washington, D. C. There he became friends with W. E. B. Dubois and Carter Woodson, who greatly influenced him.

In 1916, he returned to Harvard to pursue his Ph. D. in philosophy. He received the degree in 1918, the same year that he embraced the Bahà'í faith, converting from his family's membership in the Episcopal Church.

After receipt of his doctorate, Locke returned to Howard University, where he remained as a professor and chair of the department of philosophy until his retirement in 1953.

In 1923, Locke began contributing essays to Opportunity, the journal of the National Urban League. These essays brought him prominence as a rising black intellectual, notable for the wide range of his interests.

Locke's anthology The New Negro (1925) contained essays, poetry, articles on African and African-American visual arts, and the texts of spirituals. The book represented the manifesto of the Harlem Renaissance of which it included the most prominent voices and certified the intellectual strength of black culture.

The first edition of the collection was published as a special issue of the sociological magazine Survey Graphic in March 1925 under the title Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro. The anthology expanded this special issue to include, in addition to the original pieces of W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Anne Spencer, and James Weldon Johnson, literary contributions by Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Angelina Grimké, and Jessie Fauset, as well as art work by Aaron Douglas and scholarly essays by William Stanley Braithwaite, Kelly Miller, I. A. Rogers, and E. Franklin Frazier.

Locke wrote the introduction to the volume in which he defined its aim as "to document the New Negro culturally and socially" and to illustrate the cultural, social, and psychological changes that have shaped African-American lives in the early twentieth century.

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