Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher

University of Chicago Press
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Alain L. Locke (1886-1954), in his famous 1925 anthology TheNew Negro, declared that “the pulse of the Negro world has begun to beat in Harlem.” Often called the father of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke had his finger directly on that pulse, promoting, influencing, and sparring with such figures as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, William Grant Still, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, and John Dewey. The long-awaited first biography of this extraordinarily gifted philosopher and writer, Alain L. Locke narrates the untold story of his profound impact on twentieth-century America’s cultural and intellectual life. Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth trace this story through Locke’s Philadelphia upbringing, his undergraduate years at Harvard—where William James helped spark his influential engagement with pragmatism—and his tenure as the first African American Rhodes Scholar. The heart of their narrative illuminates Locke’s heady years in 1920s New York City and his forty-year career at Howard University, where he helped spearhead the adult education movement of the 1930s and wrote on topics ranging from the philosophy of value to the theory of democracy. Harris and Molesworth show that throughout this illustrious career—despite a formal manner that many observers interpreted as elitist or distant—Locke remained a warm and effective teacher and mentor, as well as a fierce champion of literature and art as means of breaking down barriers between communities. The multifaceted portrait that emerges from this engaging account effectively reclaims Locke’s rightful place in the pantheon of America’s most important minds.
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About the author

Leonard Harris is professor of philosophy at Purdue University. Charles Molesworth is professor of English at Queens College in New York.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 2, 2010
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Pages
448
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ISBN
9780226317809
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Cultural, Ethnic & Regional / General
History / General
History / United States / 20th Century
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This content is DRM protected.
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Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, the Metropolitan Museum of Art began an ambitious program of collection building and physical expansion that transformed it into one of the world's foremost museums, an eminence that it has maintained ever since. Two men of singular qualities and accomplishments played key roles in the Met's transformation—J. P. Morgan, America's leading financier and a prominent art collector, and Roger Fry, the headstrong English expert in art history who served as the Met's curator of painting. Their complicated, often contentious relationship embodies and illuminates the myriad tensions between commerce and art, philanthropists and professional staff, that a great museum must negotiate to define and fulfill its mission.

In this masterful, multidisciplinary narrative, Charles Molesworth offers the first in-depth look at how Morgan and Fry helped to mold the cultural legacy of masterpieces of painting and the development of the "encyclopedic" museum. Structuring the book as a joint biography, Molesworth describes how Morgan used his vast wealth to bring European art to an American citizenry, while Fry brought high standards of art history from the world of connoisseurs to a general public. Their clashes over the purpose and functions of the Met, which ultimately led to Fry's ouster, reveal the forces—personal and societal—that helped to shape the Metropolitan Museum and other major American cultural institutions during the twentieth century.

This collection of essays by American philosopher Alain Locke (1885-1954) makes readily available for the first time his important writings on cultural pluralism, value relativism, and critical relativism. As a black philosopher early in this century, Locke was a pioneer: having earned both undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Harvard, he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, studied at the University of Berlin, and chaired the Philosophy Department at Howard University for almost four decades. He was perhaps best known as a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Locke’s works in philosophy—many previously unpublished—conceptually frame the Harlem Renaissance and New Negro movement and provide an Afro-American critique of pragmatism and value absolutism, and also offer a view of identity, communicative competency, and contextualism. In addition, his major works on the nature of race, race relations, and the role of race-conscious literature are presented to demonstrate the application of his philosophy. Locke’s commentaries on the major philosophers of his day, including James, Royce, Santayana, Perry, and Ehrenfels help tell the story of his relationship to his former teachers and his theoretical affinities.

In his substantial Introduction and interpretive concluding chapter, Leonard Harris describes Locke’s life, evaluates his role as an American philosopher and theoretician of the Harlem Renaissance, situates him in the pragmatist tradition, and outlines his affinities with modern deconstructionist ideas. A chronology of the philosopher’s life and bibliography of his works are also provided. Although much has been written about Alain Locke, this is the first book to focus on his philosophical contributions.

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