Alain Locke

A biographical sketch and annotated bibliography written by Talmadge C. Guy, Assistant Professor of Adult Education at the University of Georgia

Alain Leroy Locke was born in 1886 during the post-reconstruction era and died in 1954, a month before the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. An intellectual steeped in the realities of color in 20th century America, Locke possessed a range of interests that makes chronicling and interpreting his career in adult education challenging. Most widely known for his leadership in the New Negro movement of the 1920s, he also was a leading African American figure in the adult education movement of the 1930s under the sponsorship of the American Association for Adult Education and the Carnegie Corporation. In 1946-47 he served as president of the American Association for Adult Education.

A talented student, Locke completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Harvard, and in 1910 was selected as the first African American Rhodes scholar. Following his European study he joined the faculty at Howard University as professor of English, philosophy, and pedagogy in 1911, beginning a forty year association with that institution where he initiated a number of educational reforms. In 1916 he resumed in doctoral studies at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in philosophy under Ralph Barton Perry. In 1925 he published The New Negro, an anthology of writings by various African American authors which catapulted him into national prominence as a spokesperson for the African American community.

Other notable activities and contributions include: an annual publication of a review of the literature and scholarship on the Negro from 1928 until 1953; service as visiting professor at several universities including the Universities of Wisconsin and California, the City College of New York, the New School of Social Science in New York and as guest professor at the Harvard Academic Festival in Salzburg. Under the auspices of the Progressive Education Association, he along with the social anthropologist Bernard Stern conducted summer workshops at Sarah Lawrence College and at Chicago, Northwestern and Syracuse Universities. He lectured in Latin America, Haiti and throughout the United States. He made regular visits to Africa, Paris and Rome. He wrote for or was associated with magazines and journals such as The Crisis, Opportunity, Phylon and served on the editorial boards for The American Scholar, Progressive Education and the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion. He was a member of the American Philosophical Association, the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, the Academie des Science Coloniales, Paris.

Select bibliography of Locke's works on cultural pluralism and adult education

Alain Locke, Race Contacts and Interracial Relations. Moorland-Spingarn series edited by J. C. Stewart. Howard University Press. 1992.

This book is a collection of lectures delivered by Locke in 1915 and 1916. The occasion for the lectures was Locke's attempt to introduce a course in race at Howard University. This proposal was rejected by the conservative and predominately white University board of directors. Locke prepared and delivered the lectures under the sponsorship of the NAACP.

The lectures span a range of subjects but are tied together by a central themeñto offer an effective critique of the prominent view of race as a biological and therefore largely immutable set of physical properties. Locke believed that the scientific conception of race as biologically based was specious science used to justify racist policies and practices. In the lecture series Locke offers a different conception of race as a socially constructed whereby people made affiliation among themselves according to interest and history.

In his lectures, Locke makes the point that the development of a positive race consciousness was a key to development for Negroes. The series of lectures is entitled, "The Theoretical and Scientific conceptions of race" in which Locke reviews the various theories of race as a biological construct. The second lecture is named " The Political and Practical Conceptions of Race" examines the way in which race is used to enforce domination of people of color. Social Darwinism, European imperialism, and American support of western imperialism are the targets of Locke's analysis.

In the third lecture, "The Phenomena and Laws of Race Contacts." Locke ventures to examine the state of race relations. He draws a parallel between "race" and "class" as a form of structural relations and refers to Robert Park, the sociologist of American ethnicity and race contact. The fourth lecture, "Modern Race Creeds and their Fallacies" is a critique of recent scholarship (as of the second decade of the 20th century). The last lecture is "Racial Progress and Race Adjustment" in which Locke offers the view that race pride and race understanding is an essential element in the progress of Negroes in America. Education is a critical component in the development of race pride.

The fourth lecture, titled "Modern Race Creeds and Their Fallacies" notes the distinction between prejudice in ancient societies and the contemporary use of "race" as a term to describe color differences among people. Drawing on a variety of scholarly sources, Locke demonstrates that modern race creeds are aberrations owing largely to systems of political and social domination such as slavery.

"Values and Imperatives", pp. 31 - 50. In American Philosophy Today and Tomorrow, edited by Horace M. Kallen and Sidney Hook. New York: Lee Furman, 1935. pp. 312 - 333.

This paper presents a significant philosophical argument for value pluralism. Refining and extending his doctoral thesis, Locke draws on the twin influences of the pragmatist William James and the idealist Josiah Royce. Asserting that all philosophies are expressions of social life rather than abstract, disembodied derivations of an objective reality, Locke argues for the rejection of metaphysical absolutism. Rather he sees valuation (including values, attitudes, and beliefs) as a process of transvaluation and transposition. Value imperatives should be understood without appeal to value absolutes.

All philosophies contain implicit or explicit value propositions. Only the most "superficial nominalism" or most "colorless behaviorism" might carry no value proposition. Positivism, in its drive for neutrality opposes traditional values and in so doing posits countervalues. Locke proposes that logical or rational (e)valuation is dependent on feelings. This point has important consequences. Among them, is the blurring of the fact-value distinction that is essential to positivism. Facts are not purely objective observations or reports about reality. Rather, Locke makes the point that facts are what people interpret them to be. In other words, valuation, understood first as an affective process of apprehending the world, precedes and significantly shapes cognition.

"Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy", pp. 51 - 66. Originally published in the Proceedings of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, Second Symposium, 1942.

In this paper, Locke intends to foil "tyrannies of authoritarian dogmatism and uniformitarian universality." By uniformitarian universality, Locke means a system of beliefs purporting to convey necessarily true propositions and holding that such truths should be held by, or otherwise imposed on, all persons. The notion applies to both a philosophical position as well as the political reality of totalitarian states. How value relativism combats such oppressive systems frames his discussion.

Locke takes the position that value relativism is an extension of the observable fact that different cultures have different values and understandings of the world. Locke asserts that efforts to establish or impose systems of thought or political organization arbitrarily are unjust and lead to conflict. Value relativism is the path to intellectual democracy since independence of thought is a necessary corollary of independent living.

Locke warns of being caught in the trap of advocating pluralism but harboring seeds of intolerance and orthodoxy and fundamentalism. A democratic ideal of tolerance cannot conceal an uncritical intolerance. Tyrannical dispositions can be hidden by a veneer of pluralism. Locke points out that we must constantly be on guard against such an outcome. Uncritical acceptance of absolute beliefs has roots in religious absolutism, i.e., "hundred percentism", but extends to secular beliefs as well such as "my country right or wrong." This article, presented during the beginning months of American involvement in W.W.II, poignantly points out how such absolutistic statements include a dangerous possibility. For Locke, intellectuals can extend a democratic way of life by tempering orthodoxies and claims to absolute truth and broaden sensitivities and appreciation for cultural values.

Cultural Relativism and Ideological Peace" pp. 69 - 78 published in Approaches to World Peace, ed. Lyman Bryson, Louis Finfelstein, R. M. MacIver. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944. pp. 609 - 618

This article focuses on the theme of world peace. Locke argues that ideological differences can be attenuated by a philosophy of cultural relativism. Arbitrary cultural attitudes and perspectives lead to cultural dominance and the exploitation of differences. This condition threatens peaceful relations between cultures. Cultural relativism provides a possibility for achieving peace. This is because cultural relativism is opposed to absolutism and dogmatism. The scholarly approach to a relativistic study of culture is anthropology. A reorientation of scholarly endeavor is required upon the adoption of a new outlook.

Locke focuses on the prospect of implementing a program of cultural relativism in hopes of contributing to world peace. Locke proposes three principles of intercultural relations: cultural equivalence, i.e., the idea that there are equivalent values and meanings across cultures; cultural reciprocity, the idea that values and meanings are inherently conditional and have correlates in other cultures; and limited cultural convertibility, the idea that to a limited extent meanings and values can be understood across cultures. These concepts constitute basic corollaries of the principle of cultural relativism.

"Negro Needs as Adult Education Opportunities" pp. 254 - 261 Findings of the First Annual Conference on Adult Education and the Negro, held at Hampton Institute, Virginia, October 20-22, 1938 under the auspices of the AAAE, the Extension Department of Hampton Institute, and the Associates in Negro Folk Education.

In this speech before an interracial audience attending a conference on Negro adult education , Locke argues that adult education needs among Negroes is no different in kind than that for any other group. However Negro adult education needs are different in in emphasis and degree. The basis for this difference is the subjugated status of Negroes in American society. The educational needs of Negroes have been neglected under a system of segregation. This creates special requirements for Negroes seeking educational opportunities. Chief among the responsibilities and possibilities of adult education in the Negro community is the advancement of group solidarity and the improvement of the "attitudinal" outlook of Negroes away from a condition of depression and dependence to a condition of hope and possibility. Locke argues that group solidarity and uplift of morale is as important as the improvement of general knowledge and skill for Negro adult education.

"The Need for a New Organon in Education." pp. 265 - 276. Goals for American Education, Ninth Symposium of Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion (New York: conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, 1950. pp. 201-212.

Written in 1950 at a time when many criticized the negative influence of progressive education in American schooling, Locke argued for a new vision of education. For Locke, the crisis of education rested on two points: 1) integrating disparate and specialized areas of knowledge and 2) searching for focalizing approaches in education. According to Locke, academic specialization had created a separation of specialized disciplines from the problems and routines of everyday life Cultural values were subjugated to the regulation of scientifically derived knowledge. Rather than emphasizing increasing specialization and skill development, education should strive to foster the development of a critical attitude, a new way of thinking about the new developments in science and technology.

In opposition to cool neutrality and objectivity, Locke argued that a normative basis for evaluating social developments. Calling his approach "critical relativism", Locke outlines six potential outcomes for such an educational approach which hold the promise for a revised approach to education.