To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
contact us | site guide | search
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachers
The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Migrations

Winold Reiss, cover of Survey Graphic, March 1925
March 1925
New Consciousness
- Alain Locke, "Enter the New Negro," essay, Survey Graphic, March 1925 (PDF)

Settling in Charlotte, Memphis, or even Atlanta may have had its rewards and satisfactions, but no Southern city could immerse a migrant in the teeming, vital, culturally rich world he or she would have found in Chicago, Detroit, or, supremely, in Harlem. "Here in Manhattan," wrote Alain Locke, "is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life." He catalogues those elements with Whitmanesque enthusiasm: Harlem brought together "the African, the West Indian, the Negro American, . . . the Negro of the North and the Negro of the South; the man from the city and the man from the town and the village; the peasant, the student, the business man, the professional man, artist, poet, musician, adventurer and worker, preacher and criminal, exploiter and social outcast." When all these people gathered in Harlem, they not only encountered each other, they also encountered the modern world, and from that encounter a new consciousness was born. "In the very process of being transplanted," Locke wrote, "the Negro is becoming transformed."

Alain Locke (1886-1954) was born and raised in Philadelphia. He graduated from Harvard and continued his studies in Europe as the first African American Rhodes Scholar. After teaching English at Howard University for four years, he returned to Harvard in 1916 to begin work on a Ph.D. in philosophy, which he obtained in 1918. He rejoined the Howard faculty and taught there until his retirement in 1953. In 1925 he edited a special edition of the magazine Survey Graphic, devoted exclusively to the life of Harlem. He later expanded it into an anthology, The New Negro, which became the manifesto of the Harlem Renaissance, or as some critics prefer to call it, the New Negro Movement. In the essay provided here Locke captures the hope and optimism of a people who have discovered "a new vision of opportunity." (6 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. What, according to Locke, was the main motive force behind the Great Migration?
  2. What does Locke propose as a solution for the problems of race relations in the United States?
  3. What implications does Locke see for the nation as a whole in the emergence of the New Negro?
  4. Compare Locke's ideas about black community with those put forth in 1875 by Rev. Alexander Crummel in "The Social Principle Among a People" (in "The Making of African American Identity: Vol. II").
  5. Compare Locke's ideas about the social advancement of African Americans with those that Booker T. Washington put forth in his Atlanta Exposition address (in "The Making of African American Identity: Vol. II").
  6. According to Locke, how should African Americans relate to the mainstream of American society?
  7. How realistic was Locke's view of Harlem and of African American life in general?

Framing Questions
  •  What migrations did African Americans undertake in the twentieth century?
  •  What were the effects of these migrations?

Locke: 6 pages

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: Winold Reiss, cover of Survey Graphic, March 1925. Digital image reproduced by permission of the Reiss Partnership.

1. Leaving, 1920   2. Writing for Help   3. The Chicago Riots   4. Promised Land?
  5. The Blues   6. Old Timers, Newcomers   7. Leaving But Staying
8. New Consciousness   9. New Art   10. Painting the Migration   11. Leaving, 1960

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 2010