Alain LeRoy Locke

Philadelphia, 1885–New York, 1954

Alain Locke was an influential writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts. Distinguished as the first African American Rhodes Scholar, Locke founded in 1907 the “New Negro” movement, today known as the Harlem Renaissance, and held tenure at Howard University. His 1925 edited volume, The New Negro, drew together and spurred artists and writers to continue developing a Black American aesthetic.
Locke’s academic training at Harvard University and Oxford and his travels across Europe and the United States convinced him of culture’s central role in transforming the perception and position of African-descended peoples in modern society. His views precipitated lively debate about the role of art in public life as well as the tension between the shared qualities of experience among Black Americans and struggles for the emancipation of people of African descent globally. In 1925 Locke published an anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays by Black authors entitled The New Negro. He also wrote and published several books on modern art by Black Americans, including Negro Art: Past and Present (1936) and The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art (1940). The artists Aaron Douglas, James Lesesne Wells, and Hale Woodruff were included in these volumes as examples of African American modernists. In 1941 Locke organized American Negro Art, the first commercial exhibition of works by African American artists in New York City, in collaboration with dealer Edith Halpert at the Downtown Gallery.
In the mid-1920s Locke secured the support of Edith J. R. Isaacs, the editor of the influential journal Theatre Arts Monthly, for a proposed Harlem Museum of African Art that would link the New Negro artists to their ancestral heritage on the African continent. In 1926 Isaacs acquired an entire collection of approximately one thousand objects from central Africa assembled by Raoul Blondiau, with the understanding that half of it would be purchased by the museum. Despite vigorous fundraising efforts and a wide-sweeping publicity campaign, Locke was unable to raise the necessary funds following the stock market crash in 1929. Had his project come to fruition, the Harlem museum would have been the first anywhere devoted solely to African art.
Locke bequeathed the majority of his estate to Howard University, including his papers, correspondence, and the core of his collection of African art, derived from the Blondiau collection.

For more information, see:

Locke, Alain. “The Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection.” Exh. cat. Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection of Primitive African Art – New Art Circle. New York: Theatre Arts Monthly, 1927.
Locke, Alain. “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts.” Survey Graphic 53 (March 1925).
Shannon, Helen M. “The Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection of Primitive African Art.” Tribal Art, special issue no. 3, African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde (2012), p. 51.

How to cite this entry:
Whitham Sánchez, Hilary, "Alain LeRoy Locke," The Modern Art Index Project (September 2021), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.