"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
    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

From: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at mst.edu>
Date: Tue, 2 Jun 2009 21:17:52 -0500
To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Cc: <bapopik at aol.com>
Conversation: "Big Apple" revisited:  Alain Locke's supposed 1919 Harlem/big
apple quote (2nd try)
Subject: RE: "Big Apple" revisited:  Alain Locke's supposed 1919 Harlem/big
apple quote (2nd try)

    ...I was mistaken about Google books.  I see the book Marc Miller was
referring to is the book of quotations by Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner
(2005). That book gives the "Harlem is the precious fruit in the Garden of
Eden, the big apple" quote and adds: "Alain Locke, c. 1919."  But Rawson &
Miner don't say just where this quote appears in Locke's writings (at least
not in the Google-books excerpt).  And why the approximate date?

   I'll get ahold of Rawson and Miner to see if they present any additional

Gerald Cohen

From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Cohen, Gerald Leonard
Sent: Tue 6/2/2009 7:54 PM
Subject: "Big Apple" revisited: Alain Locke's supposed 1919 Harlem/big apple


This is a follow-up and a request for assistance.

    Barry Popik and I have been checking the statement as reported in the
1/17/2007 Wall Street Journal that A. Locke said in 1919: "Harlem is the
precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the big apple." The statement
reportedly appears on a map of the Harlem Renaissance in the possession of
Marc H. Miller (Founder and Director of Ephemera Press), but no source was

    I don't find the quote entered in Google books, and in some twenty years
of research on the origin of "The Big Apple" neither Barry nor I have come
across mention of it other than in the 2007 WSJ article.   Marc Miller
recently responded to a query of mine about this, but the source still
remains unknown (a book of quotations in the B'klyn Public Library--title
not given--and the book of quotations did not cite the source of A. Locke's
supposed 1919 "big apple" quote).

     Barry's website (barrypopik.com)  comments: "I have spent many hours
reading the Amsterdam News and New York Age, and looking at all of Locke's
and [Fletcher] Henderson's works. "Big Apple" is not there before the

    The interpretation seems clear.  Unless a source can be located for A.
Locke's 1919 quotation, it should be regarded as non-existent.  But, if by
chance, someone can locate the quote, I'd very much appreciate hearing of
it. Full credit would be given in the "Big Apple" book that Barry and I are
presently preparing (2nd, revised, edition of my 1991 monograph on the
origin of the sobriquet).

    Btw, below my signoff is the response I've just received (June 1) from
Marc Miller on the A. Locke quotation.

Gerald Cohen

[reply on A. Locke's supposed 1919 "Harlem is...the big apple" quotation]:

Dear Gerald Cohen,

My knowledge about this quotation has not changed since I last answered your
query.  I found it in a book compiling well-known quotations in the main
branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.    I was seeking an appropriate
quotation about Harlem.  Unfortunately I do not have a record of the title
of the book.  If the book had listed a source for the quotation along with
the date, I would have written it down.   Knowing a bit about Locke, I can
say it is not uncommon for him to use the word "fruit" or to make biblical
allusions   I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the quote.  It is
possible that the book of quotations was mistaken about the date.  Locke
lived until 1954.  Good luck with your book.

Marc H. Miller. Ph.D.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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