So, I probably haven’t told you yet that Mike is an avid crossword puzzle attempt-to-solver. There are half-solved puzzles lying all over the house. This morning Mike picked up one of these puzzles only to discover that Michelle had filled in an answer for him. The definition read “Harlem Renaissance writer Locke.” Michelle penciled in “Alain.” Mike was a little embarrassed that he was unacquainted with Dr. Locke, so he did some research (see below). Strangely enough, in the puzzle, 3 definitions away from Alain was the following definition: “Author born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum.” The correct answer to this, Mike was able to figure out, was Ayn Rand. How could these 2 people wind up in the same crossword puzzle? You can’t get more black and white.
Alain Locke was a Harvard educated writer and philosopher who is considered to have been the Dean of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the 1st African-American to win a Rhodes scholarship. This was at a time (1907) in which they probably didn’t think to ask if an applicant was “a Negro” or not. When he got to Oxford he had trouble finding a school that would admit him because of his race but he did get admitted, and spent 2 years studying there. He then went to Berlin where he studied for another year. I don’t think there was another African-American Rhodes scholar until 1960. Locke was a mentor to a great many of the writers, artists, and musicians in the Harlem Renaissance. He published the important work The New Negro, a collection of writings by African-Americans, in 1925. (Actually, there also were a few progressive white writers in this anthology as well.) He contributed several essays of his own to that work. Locke was a member of the Baha’i faith, a religion which teaches the importance of unity and brotherhood. He was an individual who left the world a better place than when he found it for his being here.
Ayn Rand, on the other hand, believed in the primacy of the individual and of the importance of personal freedoms above those of society in general. An atheist, she rejected any notion of spirituality, believing that ultimate truth is derived through reason. Her most successful novel, Atlas Shrugged, depicts an America in which the most persecuted minority is the businessman. She tells a story in over 1000 pages of America’s greatest business people and talented artists going to the Rocky Mountains, forming a commune, and going on strike. Published in 1957, the book was extremely popular among young women because the protagonist was a powerful young woman. Mike remembers that a girl he was dating at the time telling him what a wonderful book it was. So one summer he read it and found that it was a terrible book. The premise was absurd and what was particularly astonishing to Mike was how seriously the author took herself. Did she really expect anybody to read 1000 pages of political polemic, or the full text of a 65 page radio speech found near the end of the book? The best thing that Mike can say for it is that he didn’t read most of it. Rand founded a school of philosophy, which attracted very few adherents in her lifetime, and hasn’t done much better since she died in 1982. If you’re interested, by all means look up her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” in which she presents her theory of concept formation. She believed that she got all of her ideas out of her own head, and that it was the only legitimate process that one could approach to discover truth. She also had quite a high opinion of her own head. She once said that in the history of philosophy she can only recommend the 3 A’s: Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. Rand’s current popularity has to do with her philosophy of free market capitalism, which is generally libertarian in its formulation. She also is quite popular among a number of political conservatives who are nevertheless somewhat uncomfortable with her atheism. Mike is not sure how much of any of this is true, including the report that the flower arrangement at her funeral was 6 feet high in the shape of a dollar sign. You can look it up if you want to. Mike and I both think that unity and brotherhood are ideals to be striven for in society. At the same time, individualism and freedom has to be guaranteed. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in our country and our society over the next few years.
I will note here that August 28 was the 62nd anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. Mike was a kid in Chicago at the time. Since Emmett was from Chicago, there was a great deal of local news coverage of this tragic crime. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before or not, but this was one of those incidents that changed history. It brought national focus to the danger that black men (and women and children) faced in Mississippi on a daily basis. Interestingly, it was what motivated Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama a few days later, setting off the Montgomery bus boycott, which also changed history and put Martin Luther King on the national stage as chief spokesman for the civil rights movement. I will get back to Emmett Till another time. I will say that it’s a damn shame what happened to him and to thousands of other young black men (and women and children) in the South. And I think I speak for all cats when I say this, not just the black ones.