Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lugenia Burns Hope

Born this day in 1871: Lugenia Burns Hope (1871–1947), social reformer and community organizer whose methods became a model for the Civil Rights Movement

Hope was born Lugenia Burns in St. Louis, Missouri. In the 1880s her family moved to Chicago, and from a young age she became active in the city’s settlement house movement. She performed social work at both the Kings Daughters and Hull House settlements. She also went to school, attending the Chicago Art Institute, the Chicago School of Design, and Chicago Business College.

In 1897 she married John Hope, and the couple moved to Tennessee, where her husband taught at Roger Williams University. The following year they moved to Atlanta. John began teaching at Atlanta Baptist College (later Morehouse College), eventually becoming its president. The couple had two sons. Lugenia Hope continued her social work in Atlanta, turning her attention to the crumbling black neighborhoods of the city.

Hope is most remembered for her tireless efforts with the Neighborhood Union, which she cofounded in 1908. She served as its president from its founding to 1935. The grassroots efforts she directed became a model for community organizing during the Civil Rights Movement. Volunteers canvassed black neighborhoods to learn directly from members of the community what their most pressing needs were. As a result, the Neighborhood Union oversaw employment, health education, medical, and dental programs; worked toward improving schools; and provided recreational opportunities. It also helped purge neighborhoods of vices such as gambling and prostitution.

During World War I the union worked on behalf of Atlanta’s YWCA to provide recreation services to African American soldiers, who were otherwise denied USO and other services. Hope’s success in this effort led her to organize a similar effort nationwide that provided services and counseling to African American and Jewish soldiers. Hope challenged the white domination and racial discrimination of service clubs and other reform organizations, especially through the establishment of Atlanta’s branch of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. She was also the first vice president of Atlanta’s chapter of the NAACP. In this role she established citizenship schools. These six-week courses educated African Americans on voting, democracy, and the role of government.

Hope moved to New York City after her husband’s death in 1936. There she worked with Mary McLeod Bethune, who was then director of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency. She continued working with the NAACP and was also involved in anti-lynching campaigns and other reforms.

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