The Father of the Harlem Renaissance
of the Alain Leroy Locke was born on September 13, 1885 in Philadelphia, the only child of Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke. His father was a schoolteacher and graduate of Howard University Law School. In his youth, Locke struggled with rheumatic fever, which left him with permanent heart damage. This condition physically restricted him and led him to pursue more greatly the quieter intellectual activities of reading and studying.
Locke attended Central High School in Philadelphia from 1898 to 1902. He graduated first in his class from Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, a teacher’s college, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree. He completed Harvard College’s four-year course in three years. By 1907, Locke received his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned the prestigious Bowdoin Prize for an English essay. Additionally, he was selected as the first person of African descent to receive the distinction of Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University — after rigorous examinations in Greek, Latin and mathematics.
From 1910 to 1911, Locke began studying at the University of Berlin as a graduate student. He started writing about racism, African colonialism and the arts while studying in Europe. In 1912, Locke returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Howard University where he would later become chairman of its philosophy department. He would work at Howard University for 40 years. During his early teaching career at Howard University, Locke pursued a doctorate which he earned in 1918 from Harvard University.