Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Alain Leroy Locke: Crusader and Advocate for the Education of African American Adults

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Alain Leroy Locke: Crusader and Advocate for the Education of African American Adults

Article excerpt


Harvard University-trained philosopher and Phi Beta Kappa member Alain Leroy Locke (1886-1954) achieved a number of "firsts" during his productive and illustrative career.

The first African American Rhodes Scholar, he was also the first African American president of the American Association for Adult Education (AAAE), the premiere national organization established to address the needs of adult learners. The problem, and certainly the concern of this author and article, is the blatant absence of mention of Locke's philosophical and literary contributions to the adult education movement in the United States. It is possible that his significant involvement and leadership in the Harlem Renaissance(1) may have overshadowed his important role in this movement. However, academics, practitioners, and lay persons would be well served to become cognizant of Locke's profound impact in the field of adult education. Indeed, he was pivotal in bringing attention to the need for the mass education of African American adults in a period not far removed from the era of slavery and one confronted with a plethora of adverse conditions brought on by the migration of large numbers of southern Blacks to the large urban centers of the North.

Surprisingly, noteworthy books recording the history of the adult education movement (Knowles, 1977), and a recent, rather definitive piece of research on African American adult education (Newfeldt & McGhee, 1990) make little or no reference to Locke. One of the most recent journal articles on Locke and his work in adult education appeared over 16 years ago (Hayden & DuBois, 1977), and only two doctoral dissertations have been written on Locke's involvement in this movement during the past 15 years. One of the latter focuses on Locke's noteworthy contributions from a concrete and programmatic perspective (Days, 1978). The other represents a more thorough and in-depth analysis (Guy, 1993). In addition, two books on Locke, one by Linnemann (1982) and another by Washington (1986), devote some discussion, though limited, to Locke's involvement in adult education and his views on mass education, respectively.

Though there is seemingly a growing interest in Locke's work in the area of adult education, continuing efforts seem warranted. This article addresses a significant void in the literature. Therefore, the ensuing discussion examines Locke's contributions to the adult education field from philosophical, ideological, and political perspectives. Special attention will be given to his efforts and those of his African American contemporaries to articulate the needs of African American adult learners. The implications of Locke's work for current adult educational policies and practice will also be explored.


To fully appreciate Alain Locke's impact on the adult education movement generally and his vision for the education of African American adults specifically, it seems instructive to provide readers with some sense of his philosophical orientation. As an African American and as a philosopher drawn to the field of anthropology, Locke brought fresh ideas of an ethnocultural nature that underscored the value of teaching the histories and cultures of the many groups that peopled the American landscape. He envisioned the adult education movement as a channel for teaching people how to live in a democratic, multiethnic, and multicultural society.

Though well grounded in the Socratic tradition, Locke is not particularly well known for the proliferation of philosophical treatises. However, whether addressing intellectual and/or aesthetic values associated with the Harlem Renaissance or the evolution of the "New Negro" of the post-World War I era, conflicts in race relations or educational equity, he was guided by the infusion of philosophical axioms as he explored and exposed the nature of human attitudes and behavior. …

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