"Big Apple" revisited... -- locating Alain Locke's "c. 1919" quote (1925)

Gerald Cohen gcohen at MST.EDU
Sat Jun 13 20:14:26 UTC 2009

    Alain Locke¹s quote of ³c. 1919² turns out to be from his 1925 book
(reprinted 1995) _The New Negro_.  I am indebted for this information to
Kathleen Bethel (African American Studies Librarian, Northwestern University
Library) and am very grateful for her assistance. Many thanks.

    The quote is introduced by ³Here in Manhattan² and says "Harlem is the
precious fruit of the Garden of Eden, the big apple."

    This is the earliest attestation thus far of ³big apple² in specific
reference to Harlem, but as far as I can tell, it is otherwise not
significant.  By 1925 ³the big apple² had already been appearing in print in
other references. For example, in 1924 there were six  ³Around the Big
Apple² columns in the turf newspaper ŒMorning Telegraph,¹ and ³the big
apple² had already been applied in print (one time) to Los Angeles and
several times in the meaning of ³big shot/very important person or thing.²

    I still need to check which page of Locke¹s book the quote appears on.
And I need to be sure that it appears in the 1925 edition as well as the
1992 reprinting (although I expect no problems here).

Gerald Cohen

On 6/11/09 12:50 PM, "Gerald Cohen" <gcohen at MST.EDU> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Gerald Cohen <gcohen at MST.EDU>
> Subject:      "Big Apple" revisited:  Alain Locke's supposed 1919 Harlem/big
>               apple quote -- Reply from Hugh Rawson
>  The search for the elusive source of Alain Locke=B9s =B3c. 1919 quote=B2
> ("Harle=
> m
> 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 Locke=B9s quotation in Deidre Mullane=B9s book of
> quotations. But Mullane doesn=B9t give the source.
> I am presently trying to complete the manuscript for the second edition of
> Origin of New York City=B9s Nickname =B3The Big Apple=B2 (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 Locke=B9s =B3c. 1919=B2 =B3Harlem/Big Apple=B2
> quote.  I
> believe it=B9s non-existent, but I=B9ll be happy to change my opinion on this
> i=
> f
> the quote can actually be shown to be bona fide.
>    Below is Hugh Rawson=B9s 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 th=
> e
> 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
> 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/bi=
> g
> apple quote (2nd try)
> Subject: RE: "Big Apple" revisited:  Alain Locke's supposed 1919 Harlem/big
> apple quote (2nd try)
> =20
>     ...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
> information. =20
> 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 appl=
> e
> quote
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> -
> ---
> 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
> cited.
>     I don't find the quote entered in Google books, and in some twenty year=
> s
> 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
> 1930s."
>     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 you=
> r
> 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.
> Sincerely,
> Marc H. Miller. Ph.D.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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