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Reviewed by:
  • Alain Leroy Locke: Le rôle du Nègre dans la culture des Amériques
  • Kathleen Gyssels
Alain Leroy Locke: Le rôle du Nègre dans la culture des Amériques Présentation D'Anthony Mangeon. Autrement Mêmes. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2009. ISBN 978-2-296-084339.

As I write this review at the very moment Jean-Bertrand Aristide is preparing to return to his country after seven years in exile in South Africa, I remember the African American Alain Leroy Locke's opening words at a lecture in Port-au-Prince in May 1943 that now take on an explosive tone:

Fort heureusement, les relations entre nos deux pays sont parvenues à une phase de réciprocité durant ces dernières années.

Fortunately, the relations between our two countries have reached a phase of reciprocity in the past years.


His polite expression, even by way of "captatio benevolentiae," reminds us of the astonishing degree to which black American intellectuals were fascinated by the country that had liberated itself from the yoke of slavery in 1804. African [End Page 142] Americans traveled to Haiti to speak to the people and to learn more about this first "black republic in the New World," seeing with their own eyes what a nation looked like when it was entirely governed by people of color who had succeeded in freeing themselves from slavery.

Alluding to the important role of his predecessor Frederick Douglass, Locke (1885-1954) aimed to reinforce the ties of friendship between the first black republic in the northern hemisphere and the largest (white) democracy, where its black minority, at the very time that the aforementioned talks were taking place (December 1942 to May 1943), still suffered heavily from Jim Crow laws, thus from apartheid and the legacy of the Peculiar Institution.

This volume from the collection "Autrement Mêmes"1 presents to francophone readers the lectures delivered by Alain Leroy Locke, a guiding light of the Harlem Renaissance, founder of avant-garde journals such as Opportunity (1923) and editor of anthologies such as The New Negro (1925). A great mediator between those who were to become the figureheads of Négritude and the Harlem Renaissance (Claude McKay, Countee Cullen), philosopher and pedagogue Locke was a forceful ambassador for the cause of American blacks and others who found themselves disadvantaged through any form of racism. Like W. E. B. Du Bois, who also traveled behind the wall of the USSR to view the benefits and disadvantages of communism, Locke took part in different missions and followed the footsteps of Langston Hughes who had landed in Port-au-Prince in 1932, and Aimé Césaire who visited the island in 1944, invited by Jacques Roumain.

During his sojourn in the Haitian capital, Locke gave six lectures on the relationships between whites and people of color. A first lecture was entitled "Race, culture, et démocratie" 'Race, Culture, and Democracy' (I); a second, "L'héritage africain et sa signification culturelle" 'The African Heritage and Its Cultural Significance' (II); while "La position du Nègre dans la culture nord-américaine" 'The Place of the Black in North American Culture" (III) and "The Sociological Place of the Negro in the United States' (IV) examine the status of the black and the person of color in an openly racist society. In the latter two lectures, Locke surveys the race debate in "Trois Amériques" 'Three Americas' and dwells at length (long before Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic [1993]) on the importance of African roots in music whether in North, South, or Central America. Moreover, Locke uses the term "creole" to designate these hybrid forms in dance, music, or idioms (128-29). He provides the example of Brazilian composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos and Latin Americans Amadeo Roldan, Alejandro Caturla, Pedro San Juan, and Gilberto Valdés. He gives evidence of Creole art through the sculptures and painting by Latin Americans Diego Rivera and José Clemento Orosco. Anticipating the many pages of Glissant's Le discours antillais (1981), Locke expresses his fascination with those artists who interweave different traditions and styles and translate the African component of New World...


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