June 2, 1868
February 20, 1936
The educator and civil rights activist John Hope was born in Augusta, Georgia, to Mary Frances (Fanny) and James Hope. His mother was the daughter of an emancipated slave and his father was a native of Scotland. James Hope bequeathed a substantial estate to his family, but Fanny and her children were deprived of their inheritance.
John Hope completed the eighth grade in 1881; five years later he entered Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, where he graduated with honors in June 1890. That fall, he enrolled at Brown University in Rhode Island on a scholarship. It was at Brown that Hope began to hone his writing and speaking skills and to develop race consciousness. (Although he could pass for white, he always identified himself as black.) He was the orator for his graduating class in 1894. Shortly afterward, he married Lugenia Burns, a Chicago social worker; they later had two sons.
Hope entered the field of education at a time when Booker T. Washington was advocating vocational training for African Americans. Hope rejected that philosophy, insisting that black people must acquire higher learning if they were to make a convincing case for social equality. He turned down an offer to teach at Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Instead, from 1894 to 1898 he taught Greek, Latin, and the natural sciences at Roger Williams College in Nashville, Tennessee. He went on to teach classics at Atlanta Baptist College (which became Morehouse College in 1913). In 1906, Hope became the college's first black president.
Hope's views were shared by W. E. B. Du Bois, with whom Hope nurtured a lifelong friendship. Like Du Bois, Hope was willing to join with others to achieve common objectives. He was the only college president to participate in the Niagara Movement in 1906, and the only one to attend the initial meeting that resulted in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) three years later.
As president of Atlanta Baptist College, Hope faced obstacles to his goals. Just before school was set to begin in September 1906, an antiblack riot swept through Atlanta; Hope demonstrated his leadership by ensuring that classes went on as scheduled. He was also unable to obtain financial support from some white philanthropists until a colleague approached Booker T. Washington for help. Over the years, however, he proved extraordinarily successful in increasing enrollment, raising money, and attracting leading black scholars. His educational achievements culminated in his 1929 appointment as president of the new Atlanta University, a consortium including Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. In 1934, Hope convinced W. E. B. Du Bois to head the department of sociology.
Hope did not, however, restrict his activities to the university setting. He traveled to France during World War I, where he insisted that the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) adopt new policies to ensure equitable treatment for black soldiers; this effort initiated a lasting commitment to the YMCA's work. Hope served as president of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools, and he acted as honorary president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In addition, he was a member of both the NAACP's advisory board and the Urban League of New York's executive committee. In 1920, he joined the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC), a moderate, liberal integrated group of Atlanta civic leaders; he was elected CIC president in 1932.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, through his considerable organizational connections, Hope traveled widely in Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. His commitment to cooperation across national and racial boundaries reinforced his vision of education as a tool for gaining equality. Hope was a pioneer in developing outstanding graduate and professional programs for black people. At the same time, it was under his tutelage that Atlanta University's faculty offered training to public school teachers and established citizenship schools to encourage voter registration. Hope died in Atlanta in 1936.
See also Bethune, Mary McLeod; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Education in the United States; Franklin, John Hope; Hope, Lugenia Burns; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Niagara Movement; Washington, Booker T.
Davis, Leroy. A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.
Torrence, Ridgely. The Story of John Hope. New York: Macmillan, 1948.
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