Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Alain Locke's "Moral Imperatives for World Order" Revisited

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Alain Locke's "Moral Imperatives for World Order" Revisited

Article excerpt

Winner of the National Book Award 2018 for Nonfiction and of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in the biography category, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is sure to rekindle scholarly and popular interest in Alain Leroy Locke (1885-1954). The author, Jeffrey C. Stewart-professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara-asserts:

Locke's vision remains a curious blend of pragmatism ("psalms will be more effective than sermons") in converting the heart of the oppressor to empathize with the oppressed, religious consciousness (a blend of Christianity and his Bahá'í faith), mild Afrocentrism (a return to an African past as a non-Western basis of a Black modernism), and philosophical idealism. (542)

Interestingly, "Stewart downplays Locke's involvement with the Bahá'í Faith, giving it only a few paragraphs of attention in a 944-page book" (Smith). Such short-shrift given to Locke's Bahá'í identity and discourses is part of an ongoing reluctance on the part of many Locke scholars to adequately acknowledge, accept, address, and integrate the Bahá'í dimension of Locke's life and thought.

Stewart's cursory treatment of the Bahá'í dimension of Locke's life and thought is similar to that of Locke's biography by Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth (although not to the same degree), who rightly distinguish Locke's historical significance overall as "the most influential African American intellectual born between WE.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr." (Harris and Molesworth 1). Dr. King himself, at the Poor People's Campaign Rally in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on March 19, 1968, declared: "We're going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe" (7). Alain Locke was a public figure of some stature and consequence who is once again-or still-influencing the discourse on race.

To his credit, however, Professor Harris has been vocal about, and appreciative of, Alain Locke's Bahá'í identity, both in public lectures as well as in print. For instance, he includes two of Alain Locke's essays originally contributed to the Bahâ'í World volumes,1 whereas Charles Molesworth's anthology of Locke's oeuvre is bereft of any mention whatsoever of his Bahá'í essays. The present writer has tried to fill this void in Locke scholarship, yet the Bahá'í dimension of Locke's life and thought remain marginalized and undervalued. Therefore, throughout the remarks and analysis that follow, occasional references to Locke's Bahá'í context will be offered as an added dimension in an overarching framework of analysis.

Locke's framing of the American racial crisis-and the wide range of problems that racism precipitates and perpetuates-is still relevant today, as such problems have not been resolved and persist, albeit in reconfigured ways. When the Institute of International Relations held its Tenth Annual Session from June 18-28, 1944, in Oakland, California, World War II had set the world aflame, and the conflagration was still raging. World peace was but a dream, and seemed as elusive as ever. Thinkers, academics, educators, and others concerned with this issue would meet, from time to time, in ad hoc, confabulatory "think tanks," to examine possible ways of bringing about a lasting global peace.

This conference was one such event-a place to confer-yet it achieved no definitive consensus or notable outcome. Although high-profile back then, the Institute of International Relations' "Tenth Annual Session" is now a mere footnote in history. So why is it valuable to revisit this event today? Because the message of one of its outstanding presenters- Bahá'í philosopher Alain Locke-is as relevant as ever.

Over the course of two days (June 20-21), Alain Locke presented three papers: "Race: American Paradox and Dilemma;" "Race in the Present World Crisis;" and "Moral Imperatives for World Order." Summaries of these three papers were published in a proceedings volume. …

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