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Lugenia Burns Hope

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NASW Celebrates Black History Month 2005

 
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NASW Celebrates Black History Month 2005!
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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