A crowd assembled under gray skies and drizzle this weekend to remember a man none of them had ever met but whose contributions to American culture resonate through 20th-century history– and whose ashes had been stored for decades in a container the size of a coffee can.
Sixty years after his death, on what would have been his 129th birthday, Alain Locke’s strange posthumous journey came to an end Saturday at Congressional Cemetery. He was celebrated by, among others, Harvard’s Kuumba Singers, who traveled overnight from Locke’s alma mater to take part in the interment ceremony.
The crowd filled the cemetery’s chapel, lining the walls and filling the doorway to listen to eulogies about this herald of the Harlem Renaissance; the author of the influential anthology, “The New Negro”; the first black Rhodes Scholar; and a kind and knowledgeable educator, whose pioneering public roles ran parallel to the personal challenges he encountered as a gay black man in the first half of the 20th century.
Outside, people picked up a trowel to join the process of settling Locke in his symbolic new resting place — across from the sandstone cenotaphs for early congressman, just steps from the marker for former president John Quincy Adams, and adjacent to Warren Robbins, first director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.
Kurt Schmoke, Howard University’s former legal counsel and a Rhodes Scholar, said he hoped the interment would mean Locke’s story would resonate with more people and younger generations. And if Twitter, where people followed the event as it unfolded, was any guide, Schmoke’s wish seemed likely to be fulfilled.
“Imagine Skip Gates’ remains being stashed in a can for 60 years–that’s the equivalent!” wrote one.
“A warm welcome to my new neighbor, Alain Locke” tweeted Tim Krepp, a local historian, cemetery tour guide and Capitol Hill resident. “I look forward to telling his story on my next tour of @CongCemetery!”