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Alain Locke (1886-1954), one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century and the nation's first black Rhodes Scholar, was a central figure in the New Negro Renaissance. Born in Philadelphia, Locke graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University. In 1925 he edited The New Negro, an anthology of prose, poems, and art that helped define this critical cultural movement. Locke wrote that the anthology sought to "document the New Negro culturally and socially to register the transformations of the inner and outer life of the Negro in America that have so significantly taken place in the last few years."

Although usually associated with Harlem, Locke called Washington home. Beginning in 1912, he taught English, education, and philosophy for more than 40 years at Howard University.

Locke was a leader in the national and local adult education movements. In 1935 he, Mary McLeod Bethune, and others founded the Associates in Negro Folk Education, organized to disseminate scholarly work to adult learners. Of the nine "bronze booklets" published by the Associates between 1936 and 1942, Locke penned two on art and music. Sterling Brown, Ralph Bunche, and Eric Williams were some of the other authors. Locke was the first black president of the American Association for Adult Education.

Locke also wrote widely on cultural pluralism, a philosophical concept emphasizing respect for different cultures.

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