Lugenia Burns Hope (1871-1947)
Born on February 19, 1871, in St. Louis, Missouri, Lugenia D. Burns gained
experience as an adolescent by working, often full time, for several charitable
and settlement organizations. Between 1890 and 1893 she attended the Chicago
Art Institute, the Chicago School of Design, and the Chicago Business College.
She met John Hope in 1893, and they were married in 1897.
First in Nashville, Tennessee, and then, for more than 30 years, in
Atlanta, Georgia, Lugenia Hope organized community services and worked
for civil rights. Soon after arriving in Atlanta, Hope worked with a
group that eventually evolved into the Neighborhood Union, the first
female-run, social welfare agency for African Americans in Atlanta. From
1908 to 1935, as chairperson of its Board of Managers, she oversaw the
provision of medical, recreational, employment, and educational services
to Atlanta's African-American neighborhoods.
At the beginning of World War I, the Union ran the Atlanta YWCA 's
War Work Councils to serve African-American soldiers, who were barred
from the recreational activities available to white soldiers through
the base canteens and other USO-related entertainments. As a result of
their success, she was approached to coordinate a nationwide network
of Hostess Houses that eventually provided both African-American and
Jewish soldiers, and their families, with a wide variety of services
from recreation to relocation counseling.
Hope was also a founding member of the Atlanta Branch of the National
Association of Colored Women's Clubs. Through her club work, she became
involved in national reform activities and particularly in the efforts
to challenge racial discrimination within various reform organizations.
In 1920 Hope led a challenge to the practices of segregation and white-domination
within the national YWCA. In a memorable statement to the white women
who hesitated to grant complete equality, Hope responded, "Ignorance
is ignorance wherever found, yet the most ignorant white woman may enjoy
every privilege that America offers. Now . . . the ignorant Negro woman
should also enjoy them."
Hope's style went beyond the traditional racial politics of the period.
She criticized sharply the widespread belief that African Americans had
to prove their readiness for citizenship. Her leadership resulted in
her assuming the office of First Vice President of the Atlanta chapter
of the NAACP. As such, she organized citizenship schools that offered
six-week classes on voting, democracy, and the Constitution. Other chapters
around the country used such strategies and later modified them for use
in the early stages of the civil rights movement. In 1936, the year of
her husband's death, Hope herself began to suffer ill health. She moved
away from Atlanta, first to New York City, then to Chicago, and finally
to Nashville to be near relatives. Hope died of heart failure in Nashville,
Tennessee, on August 14, 1947.
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