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When we buried the mortal remains of the great African American philosopher, writer and Baha’i Alain Locke on Capitol Hill in Washington, heavenly voices rose skyward. In a stirring, emotional a cappella performance by the interracial Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, the packed chapel rang with rousing praise and deep emotion. This remarkable man—the intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance and the first black Rhodes Scholar—deserved such a fitting ceremony.
The last speaker at Locke’s internment service—Dr. Michael R. Winston, Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer of Howard University—impressively highlighted Locke’s many contributions to the university (including an enlightened curriculum reform), to African Americans, and to the world.
Then the time came to inter Locke’s ashes, enshrined in a dignified, silver urn. The Kuumba Singers sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (otherwise known as “The Negro National Anthem”) which ends:
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Finally, a distinguished African American Baha’i gentleman—Robert James, member of the Regional Baha’i Council of the Southeastern States—read a moving Baha’i prayer for the progress of Alain Locke’s pure, departed soul:
O my God! O my God! Verily, Thy servant, humble before the majesty of Thy divine supremacy, lowly at the door of Thy oneness, hath believed in Thee and in Thy verses, hath testified to Thy word, hath been enkindled with the fire of Thy love, hath been immersed in the depths of the ocean of Thy knowledge, hath been attracted by Thy breezes, hath relied upon Thee, hath turned his face unto Thee, hath offered his supplications to Thee, and hath been assured of Thy pardon and forgiveness. He hath abandoned this mortal life and hath flown to the kingdom of immortality, yearning for the favor of meeting Thee.
O Lord, glorify his station, shelter him under the pavilion of Thy supreme mercy, cause him to enter Thy glorious paradise, and perpetuate his existence in Thine exalted rose garden, that he may plunge into the sea of light in the world of mysteries.
Then Attorney Keys placed the silver urn containing Locke’s mortal remains, imbued with historical immortality, into the small excavation prepared for the interment. Keys took a trowel, and ceremoniously poured soil over Locke’s urn. Then he asked others to do the same. I was one of the first, not because of any specific invitation, but because I honored and respected Locke so much.
Let me close with an excerpt from a 2011 article I wrote about Locke in Baha’i Studies Review:
A Tablet, revealed in 1921, was recently rediscovered in which Abdu’l-Baha; spoke highly of Locke:
Dr Locke, this distinguished personage, deserveth every praise. I implore the Kingdom of God to grant him a special confirmation.
This, in fact, may be the very Tablet that Louis Gregory referred to in writing: “The Master in a Tablet praised him [Alain Locke] highly.”
Years later, Shoghi Effendi said of Locke:
He [Shoghi Effendi] cherishes in his loving heart great hope for your spiritual success. People as you [Alain Locke], Mr. Gregory, Dr. Esslemont and some other dear souls are as rare as diamond. … The world, more than ever, is in need of spiritual nourishment. You are the chosen ones to render this service to the lifeless world in this present stage.
Digital scans of Shoghi Effendi’s letters to Alain Locke can be found here.
In 2007, I wrote lyrics to a song, “The Ballad of Alain Locke,” the last stanza of which reads:
Sing the ballad of Alain Locke:
Reflect on him and take stock
Of all he did for the nation,
As the saint of race relations.
Locke was right:
Black and white
Need each other.
Like long lost brothers.
A small confession: Before the interview, I stood in line again. I poured a second trowel of dirt over Locke’s urn. I guess I was the only one to do so. I was going to keep it a secret between Dr. Locke and me. But I couldn’t keep the secret inside. So now you know.
Watch the full Internment Ceremony below:
This video was provided by Vahid Brignoni.
Read Christopher Buck’s biography of Dr. Alain Locke Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy.
You may also enjoy reading Christopher Buck’s other articles on Alain Locke: