A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from January 17, 2022
Alain Locke and Harlem Renaissance as the “Big Apple” (1920s; suggested in 1988)

Alain Leroy Locke (1885-1954) was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and a professor of philosophy at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He guest edited Survey Graphic in March 1925 for a special edition titled “Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro.” Locke is sometimes credited—without evidence—for saying this in 1919:

“Harlem is the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple.”

Geraldine L. Daniels (1933-2012), a Harlem Assemblywoman, popularized Locke’s supposed quote in 1988 and 1990. “Says Assemblywoman Geraldine Daniels: (...) ‘Dr. Locke, a graduate of Harvard University, and the first Black Rhodes Scholar to attend Oxford University in England, first used the term to depict Harlem as the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, and that oppressed Black American intellectuals could find it as an oasis for their talents in the Fine Arts such as literature, music and paintings’” was printed in the New York Amsterdam News (New York, NY) on August 20, 1988.

Daniels wrote a letter to the editor of the New York (NY) Times, “Harlem Renaissance Gave Us ‘Big Apple,’” that was published in August 28, 1990:

“According to Harlem griots (oral historians), the clue to the mystery is Harlem. It is my understanding that Alain Locke, professor of philosophy at Howard University, originated the term during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. Dr. Locke, a graduate of Harvard University and the first black Rhodes Scholar to attend Oxford University, used the term to depict Harlem as the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, an oasis for the literary, musical and painting talents of oppressed black American intellectuals.”

Several books of quotations included the alleged Locke quote and attached a “c.1919) date to it, including the books Words to Make My Dream Children Live: A Book of African American Quotations (1995) by Deirdre Mullane, My Soul Looks Back, ‘less I Forget: A Collection of Quotations by People of Color (1995) by Dorothy Winbush Riley and The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (1997) by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson.

Searches for the terms “Harlem” and “Garden of Eden” and “precious fruit” and “apple” have failed to turn up any such quotation, by Alain Locke (in 1919 or at any time) or from anyone else.


Wikipedia: Alain Leroy Locke
Alain Leroy Locke (September 13, 1885 – June 9, 1954) was an American writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts. Distinguished in 1907 as the first African-American Rhodes Scholar, Locke became known as the philosophical architect —the acknowledged “Dean"— of the Harlem Renaissance. He is frequently included in listings of influential African Americans. On March 19, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: “We’re going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe.”
(...)
Harlem Renaissance and the “New Negro”
Locke was the guest editor of the March 1925 issue of the periodical Survey Graphic, for a special edition titled “Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro”: about Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance, which helped educate white readers about its flourishing culture. In December of that year, he expanded the issue into The New Negro, a collection of writings by him and other African Americans, which would become one of his best-known works. A landmark in black literature (later acclaimed as the “first national book” of African America), it was an instant success. Locke contributed five essays: the “Foreword”, “The New Negro”, “Negro Youth Speaks”, “The Negro Spirituals”, and “The Legacy of Ancestral Arts”. This book established his reputation as “a leading African-American literary critic and aesthete.”

Hertford College, University of Oxford
Alain LeRoy Locke (1886-1954)
A highly distinguished American writer and philosopher, Locke’s influence on early twentieth century culture can hardly be overstated. Locke is often identified as the father of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural movement of the 1920s and 1930s that proudly championed black intellectual and artistic production. It was vital to the formation of black modernity. ‘Harlem is the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple,’ Locke said.

20 August 1988, New York Amsterdam News (New York, NY), “Getting to the core of ‘Big Apple’” by Ali Stanton, pg. 23, cols. 1-2:
(Following a “Big Apple” discussion in the newspaper syndicated column of “Dear Abby.”—ed.)
Apple source
Says Assemblywoman Geraldine Daniels: “...as the representative of central Harlem in the New York State Assembly, it is my understanding that the outstanding savant, the late Dr. Alain Locke, Professor of Philosophy at Howard University in Washington, D.C., was the originator of the term during the Harlem Renaissance.

“Dr. Locke, a graduate of Harvard University, and the first Black Rhodes Scholar to attend Oxford University in England, first used the term to depict Harlem as the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, and that oppressed Black American intellectuals could find it as an oasis for their talents in the Fine Arts such as literature, music and paintings.”

Google Books
17 October 1988, Jet magazine, “People Are Talking About...,” pg. 57:
How the Big Apple got its name. Dr. Alain Locke, professor of philosophy at Howard University in Washington, D.C., coined the nickname for New York City, according to N.Y. Assemblywoman Geraldine Daniels. Locke, the first Black Rhodes Scholar, “first used the term to depict Harlem as the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden,” she said.

26 August 1990, New York (NY) Times, “Letters: Harlem Renaissance Gave Us ‘Big Apple,’” pg. E18, cols. 3-4:
To the Editor:
Your Aug. 6 article on the anniversary of the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater quotes Jean Ashton, acting librarian of the New-York Historical Society, saying that what happened to Judge Crater is one of the ‘’perpetual questions’’ about New York, ‘’along with why is New York called the Big Apple.’’

According to Harlem griots (oral historians), the clue to the mystery is Harlem. It is my understanding that Alain Locke, professor of philosophy at Howard University, originated the term during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s.

Dr. Locke, a graduate of Harvard University and the first black Rhodes Scholar to attend Oxford University, used the term to depict Harlem as the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, an oasis for the literary, musical and painting talents of oppressed black American intellectuals.

A colleague of Dr. Locke’s in the 20’s was Fletcher Henderson, a graduate of Atlanta University and native of Cuthbert, Ga. He was the arranger for Benny Goodman in the 1930’s and 40’s, a composer of jazz and other music, and conductor of his own orchestra, which is believed to have been the first black musical ensemble to play on Broadway.

It was Fletcher Henderson, Harlem griots tell us, who popularized the term ‘’Big Apple.’’ He enticed such jazz greats from the South as the trumpeter Louis Armstrong and the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins to come and join his orchestra in the Big Apple. Many talented black musicians followed them, making Harlem the mecca of jazz.

Also, the poets Claude McKay and Langston Hughes, the writers Henry Moon and William Braithwaite, the artists Lois Mailou Jones and Romare Bearden. In addition, Todd Duncan and Anne Wiggins Brown, opera singers; Hall Johnson, arranger of spirituals, and the singers Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. The Big Apple eventually became a nationally popular dance, a famous bar on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue) and 135th Street, and the symbol of New York.

GERALDINE L. DANIELS
Member of Assembly, 70th Dist.
New York, Aug. 13, 1990

According to Harlem gurus (oral history handed down), the coinage of the term “Big Apple” is attributed to the famous African-American philosopher, Dr. Alain Locke, who was a Harvard University graduate, the first African-American Rhodes scholar and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Howard University. It is said that Locke coined the term during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.

7 June 1992, Washington (DC) Post, “Letters,” pg. E2:
Geraldine L. Daniels Assemblywoman 70th District Harlem, N.Y.
(...)
Origer and C.M. Hayes
Society for the Proper Observance and Usage of Tea Terms Washington

29 September 1997, The Record (Kitchener, ON), “Going to the core to find origin of the Big Apple” by Christian Aagaard, pg. B2:
The New York Times issue of August 13, 1990, links the phrase to Alain Locke, the first black Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. Locke used “Big Apple” to describe Harlem as the fruit in the Garden of Eden, a place where the artistic talents of oppressed blacks could thrive. Locke was a university professor at Howard University during the 1920s.

The Christian Science Monitor
4 March 1998, The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), “The Readers Ask: Why is New York called ‘The Big Apple’?” by Staff, pg. 10:
Q Why is New York City referred to as “The Big Apple”?

A There are a number of different theories. Most likely, the nickname evolved from the jazz culture in Harlem earlier this century. Many musicians compared traveling jazz tours to a tree. When playing away from home, musicians were out in the branches; when they were performing in New York City, they were in “The Big Apple.” Stephen Longstreet in the 1920s is credited with being the first to call New York City the big apple. Prof. Alain Locke, the first black Rhodes scholar, used the term to depict Harlem as the “precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, an oasis for the literary, musical, and painting talents of oppressed black American intellectuals.” Oral historians of Harlem claim that Fletcher Henderson popularized the phrase, however, in the 1930s or 1940s. He often tried to entice musicians from the South to join him in “The Big Apple.” Around this time Harlem became the mecca for jazz and a nationally popular dance was called “The Big Apple.”

5 February 1999, Florida Times Union (Jacksonville, FL), “`Big Apple’ traces roots to jazz scene and horse racing” by Nicole McGill, pg. E-2:
DEAR CALL BOX: Why is New York City called the Big Apple?—C.

DEAR C. In researching your question, we found more than one answer.

John J. Fitzgerald, a horse racing writer for The Morning Telegraph, used the phrase in the 1920s. While visiting New Orleans, he overheard stable hands using the phrase to describe New York’s racing tracks, according to the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. He later renamed his column “Around the Big Apple.”

In the 1930s, jazz musicians used it when referring to Harlem. There was even a dance called “The Big Apple.”

Alain Locke, an African-American scholar, once praised Harlem as “the precious fruit of the Garden of Eden” because he considered it an oasis for black artists and intellectuals.

Gale Academic Onefile
New York, New York: culture maps of the Big Apple
Author: Gary Turley
Date: May-June 2002
(...)
Alain Leroy Locke, an editor and professor at Howard College early in the twentieth century, used to stay at the Hotel Olga, at 42 West 120th Street, during his frequent visits to Harlem. Around 1920, at the dawning of what is widely considered the “Harlem Renaissance,” he called the neighborhood “the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple.”

Google Books
The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations
(Second Edition)
By Margaret Miner & Hugh Rawson
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
2006
Pg. 132:
Harlem is the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple.
Alain Locke, c. 1919
* An early example of the “big apple” metaphor, cited in Deidre Mullane, ed., Words to Make My Children Live: A Book of African American Quotations, 1995. Locke, who earned a B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, was the first black Rhodes Scholar, and taught philosophy at Howard University. He edited The New Negro, 1925, an anthology that introduced the writers of the Harlem Renaissance to a wider audience.

Google Books
America in the 1920s
By Michael J. O’Neal
New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.
2006
Pg. 33:
THE BIG APPLE
New York City is often called the Big Apple. The expression was first used in the 1920s by sports stars and entertainment figures, especially jazz musicians. They used to say “I’ve hit the big time, I’m playing in New York City, I’ve reached the big apple at the top of the tree of success.” African-American writer Alain Locke used the now well-known phrase in 1919 when he called Harlem “the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple.”

17 January 2007, Wall Street Journal (New York, NY), “Jazz’s History Is Living in Queens” by Nat Hentoff, pg. D12:
The Queens Jazz Trails tour takes place the first Saturday of every month. (For information: 718-463-7700, extension 222.) Copies of the accompanying map can be obtained from Mr. Miller at Ephemera Press (ephemerapress.com). There, too, is his celebrated illustrated map of the Harlem Renaissance that cites cultural historian Alaine Locke’s 1919 first chorus to the abiding importance of Harlem: “Harlem is the precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the big apple.”

American Dialect Society listserv, ADS-L
“Big Apple” revisited: Alain Locke’s supposed 1919 Harlem/big apple quote—Reply from Hugh Rawson
Gerald Cohen gcohen at MST.EDU
Thu Jun 11 17:50:47 UTC 2009
The search for the elusive source of Alain Locke¹s ³c. 1919 quote² ("Harlem
is the precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the big apple") leads to three
books of quotations, but none of them gives the source. Hugh Rawson (many
thanks) kindly responded to my query for his source for the quotation, and
it turns out that he found Locke¹s quotation in Deidre Mullane¹s book of
quotations. But Mullane doesn¹t give the source.

I am presently trying to complete the manuscript for the second edition of
Origin of New York City¹s Nickname ³The Big Apple² (first edition: 1991),
this time co-authored with Barry Popik.
And I would like to have the Locke issue nailed down.

I will therefore write a check of $100 to the first person who can provide
me the exact reference of Locke¹s ³c. 1919² ³Harlem/Big Apple² quote.  I
believe it¹s non-existent, but I¹ll be happy to change my opinion on this if
the quote can actually be shown to be bona fide.

Below is Hugh Rawson¹s reply to me.

Gerald Cohen

[Reply from H. Rawson]:

Dear Professor Cohen:
The Locke quote is one of the few that we took from another dictionary
of quotations, in this case, as explained in our note to the quote, from
Words to Make My Dream Children Live: A Book of African American Quotations,
edited by Deidre Mullane (Anchor Books, 1995). Mullane’s book does not
include a source; only the “c. 1919.” Checking my bookshelf, I find that the
same quote, also dated to c. 1919 but otherwise unsourced, appears in My
Soul Looks Back, ‘Lest I Forget: A Collection of Quotations by People of
Color, edited by Dorothy Winbush Riley (privately published in 1991 and
republished by HarperCollins, 1993). For whatever it is worth, both
dictionaries include sources for most other quotations. For Locke, in
addition to his books, quotes are sourced to such publications as Theater
Arts Monthly and Opportunity. I don’t know if he wrote regularly for these
magazines.
I’m afraid all this doesn’t tell you much except that Locke’s reference
to the big apple has been kicking around for some time. Wish I could be of
more help. I will be sure to let you know if I stumble over any other leads.
Best wishes,
Hugh R

Google Books
Book of African-American Quotations
Edited by Joslyn Pine
Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
2011
Pg. 120:
Alain Locke
(...)
Harlem is the precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the big apple.

The Lily Elsie
WHAT WAS THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE?
Posted on 25th Sep 2019
(...)
“Harlem is the precious fruit in the Garden of Eden, the big apple.”
ALAIN LEROY LOCKE

Twitter
Red Rooster Harlem
@RoosterHarlem
This week’s #bhm dish is the Fried Smothered Pork Chop w/ skippin’ jenny & pickled apples. Created by line cook, Kendall Ceruti, this dish was inspired by the father of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, who released The New Negro anthology of fiction, poetry & essays in 1925.
4:09 PM · Feb 18, 2020·Twitter for iPhone

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s-present: False Etymologies • Monday, January 17, 2022 • Permalink