Hope, John 1868–1936
John Hope 1868–1936
After John Hope’s death in 1936 in Atlanta, Georgia, black scholar and leader W. E. B. DuBois summarized his friend’s life and achievements in a tribute in the Pittsburgh Courier: “He accomplished an unusual work by any standard. Graduating from a New England private school and from Brown [University], becoming a teacher, a college president, and then the president of the first equipped graduate school of university grade that Negroes have had, he died attempting to fix this school in its difficult relations to scholarship and to the races in the South.” Even though Hope inherited the physical features of his Scottish father and could have had the advantages often afforded whites, he identified with his black heritage and became one of the most important and influential leaders in higher education for black students that the United States has known.
John Hope was born on June 2, 1868, in Augusta, Georgia, at the beginning of Reconstruction, the process of reorganizing the South after the Civil War. His father, James Hope, was born to a prominent family in Langholm, Scotland, and in 1817 he moved with his family to New York, where he later entered the mercantile business. The elder Hope eventually relocated to Augusta, and began a long-lasting relationship with a black woman named Fanny Butts, the mother of his closest friend’s two children. According to the custom of the time, James Hope had been appointed Butts’s “guardian” after his friend died. Hope and Butts, who probably never married since interracial unions were illegal in Georgia, would soon have five children of their own, including John.
When Hope’s father died in 1876, young John felt he should take financial responsibility for himself. At the age of ten, he began working for two lawyers during the summers and earned $4.00 a month. Hope, as quoted by Ridgely Torrence in The Story of John Hope, described his mother’s reaction to his early employment: “I will say to her credit that although she did not want me to work for these lawyers, and although I had secured the job without her knowing anything about it beforehand, she nevertheless felt that I ought to keep my word. So off I started in my new first job! She jammed my little hat down on my head and in words none too pleasant told me to go ahead and behave myself.” Hope also took a paper route delivering the Augusta Chronicle.
When John was 13 years old, he completed the eighth grade and left school to begin working full time for Lexius Henson, a black man who owned and operated a restaurant.
Born John Hope, June 2, 1868, in Augusta, GA; died February 20, 1936, in Atlanta, CA; son of James Hope and Mary Frances (Fanny) Butts; married Lugenia D. Burns (a social worker), 1897; children: Edward Swain, John, Jr. Education: Brown University, A.B., 1894; stud-ted at the University of Chicago, 1897 and 1898. Politics: Repubiican. Religion: Baptist.
Roger Williams University, Nashville, TN, professor of natural sciences, 1894-98; Atlanta Baptist College (later named Morehouse College), professor of classics, 1898-1906, president 1906-31; Atlanta University, president, 1929-36, Field secretary for black troops in France, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), 1918-19.
Member: Niagara Movement, Commission on Interracial Cooperation (founder and president), Spingarn Medal Committee, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (honorary president), National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools (president), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP; member of advisory board), Atlanta Urban League, National Urban League (executive committee), Georgia State Council of Work among Negro Boys, Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching, Monday Club (Atlanta), Twelve Club (Atlanta; founder), Phi Beta Kappa.
Awards: Honorary degrees from Brown University, Bates College, Howard University, Bucknell University, and McMaster University; Harmon Award in education, 1929; Spingarn Medal (posthumous), 1936.
Hope worked for Henson until 1890, assuming many of the responsibilities of the restaurant and catering business and enjoying the lively social and intellectual life of the black community in Augusta.
The young Hope was greatly influenced by one citizen of Augusta in particular, the Reverend John Dart, who came to the city as interim pastor of the Union Church. Dart challenged Hope on his decision to leave school. As Hope relayed in a later speech, quoted by Torrence, “I had been out of school five years working for a living and not seeing how in the world I could ever get to school again and getting not particularly interested in going back. But Dart wielded such an influence that, although I was not a member of his church, when he said, ‘John, why don’t you go to school?’ it got working in my mind almost like a command.” With encouragement and individual tutoring from Dart and Dr. George Williams Walker as well as a loan from his half brother, Madison Newton, John Hope entered Worcester Academy in Massachusetts in 1886.
With the aid of scholarships and part-time work as a waiter, Hope excelled in Worcester’s mostly white but liberal environment, becoming editor of the school paper, playing baseball and football, and joining the debate society. In the fall of 1890, Hope entered Brown University, where he revived his love of the classics cultivated earlier by a leading black educator and classical scholar, Lucy Craft Laney, in Augusta. But Hope’s main focus was philosophy, for which he prepared by studying the natural sciences, modern languages, economics, history, fine arts, and anthropology. He also began to enjoy an association with the black community in Providence, Rhode Island, a connection he had not made during his years at Worcester. Torrence remarked that “while [Hope’s] intellect flourished at Brown, his emotions were already leading him in the direction of his own people.”
Hope was present when John M. Langston, former professor of law and first dean of Howard University’s law school, addressed the students at Brown, the first black man to ever do so. “It was as though in that hour,” Torrence commented in The Story of John Hope, “[Hope] received from the old schoolmaster a kindling of the flame which he was to carry forward to another generation.”
In his continued struggle to pay his college expenses, Hope went to Chicago the summer after his junior year to work at the World’s Fair. There he met his future wife, Lugenia Burns. In June of 1894 Hope graduated with a bachelor of arts from Brown University and was elected class orator for the commencement service. In later years, Brown would distinguish Hope with honorary master of arts and law degrees and admit him into the Phi Beta Kappa Society for his distinguished service.
Even though he had been offered several positions in New England as well as a position at Tuskegee Institute, Hope accepted a teaching job at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee. He began his tenure in the fall of 1894 teaching natural sciences and occasionally Greek and Latin. Hope also continued taking summer courses at the University of Chicago, where his relationship with Genie Burns deepened. The two were married in Chicago during the Christmas holidays of 1897 and returned to Roger Williams for what would be Hope’s last semester; in the spring of 1898 he was offered and accepted a teaching position at Atlanta Baptist College. He had been longing to go home to Georgia, the state of his birth.
During Hope’s first few years at Atlanta Baptist College, he became close friends with W. E. B. DuBois—who was teaching at nearby Atlanta University—as well as with other prominent black intellectuals. Torrence referred to Hope’s new contacts as the “progressives and radicals of their time.” Hope and DuBois, along with many black thinkers and pioneers, were present at the 1895 Macon Convention, which eventually turned into the permanent Georgia Equal Rights Convention. A Voice of the Negro article described Hope as “one of the guiding factors in the convention.”
It was their similar views on educating black youth that cemented the friendship between Hope and DuBois. In 1896 Hope delivered a speech before a black debating society in Nashville. According to Torrence, Hope declared, “If we are not striving for equality, in heaven’s name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our colored men to tell white people or colored people that we are not struggling for equality. If money, education, and honesty will not bring to me as much privilege, as much equality as they bring to any American citizen, then they are to me a curse, and not a blessing…. If we cannot do what other freemen do, then we are not free. Yes, my friends, I want equality. Nothing less.”
Along with DuBois, Hope worked tirelessly for the right to a liberal, not just vocational, education for black people. A speech he gave in Nashville titled “The Need of a Liberal Education for Us,” as quoted by Torrence, expressed some of Hope’s views. He believed, for example, “The Negro must enter the higher fields of learning. He must be prepared for advanced and original investigation. The progress, dignity, and respectability of our people depend on this. Mere honesty, mere wealth will not give us rank among the other peoples of the civilized world; and, what is more, we ourselves will never be possessed of conscious self-respect, until we can point to men in our own ranks who are easily the equal of any race.”
Hope continued to “spread the doctrine of a liberal education for Negroes,” according to Torrence, by engaging in lecture tours throughout the United States during the summer months. In articles for Atlanta Baptist College’s paper, the Advance, Hope recorded his impressions of his tours. On the one hand, he was greatly discouraged by the “mass of people who are totally unacquainted with one of the greatest problems of this country [racism] and absolutely indifferent to it. The most bitter experience a worker can have as he moves about in the North is not that of meeting doubt, despondency, or hostility, but of coming in contact with bland, polite indifference.” On the other hand, he found some attitudes to be “reassuring,” especially those that showed “a deep righteousness and a belief in the American idea of rights and liberty stretching to every man regardless of race or condition.”
In 1906 John Hope became acting president of Atlanta Baptist College, and the next year he was named president. He was the college’s first black president and the first black to be appointed president at a Baptist school. The summer before he assumed his duties, however, he participated in the second meeting of DuBois’s newly formed Niagara Movement, which Torrence referred to as “one of the great racial group activities of his lifetime.”
Meeting at Storer College for Negroes in West Virginia, the group held a rally at the site of John Brown’s martyrdom. Hope, Addie Butler reported in The Distinctive Black College: Talladega, Tuskegee and Morehouse, was the “only person from a Southern Black college to ally himself with this display of racial solidarity and his participation was both daring and dangerous considering his position and the times.” The convention passed the resolutions outlined in DuBois’s Address to the Country, including a demand for full suffrage for black people.
Taking on the role of president, Hope made expanding Atlanta Baptist College one of his first objectives. When his initial efforts to raise funds proved futile, Hope turned to fellow educator Booker T. Washington to intervene. With Washington’s support, John T. Rockefeller’s “General Education Board” and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie both made substantial gifts to fund new buildings.
The decade of the 1910s found John Hope more often than not, far away from his beloved Georgia and Atlanta Baptist College. In 1912 he made the first of numerous trips to Europe, enjoying England and Rome and at long last visiting Langholm, Scotland, the home of his father. In The Story of John Hope, Torrence described the effect of this first visit on Hope: “It was as a citizen of the world that John Hope returned to Atlanta in September [of 1912]. He had quickened his sense of brotherhood by sharing the life of the group in Leeds. He had seen, touched, brooded over the venerable monuments of eternal Rome. In Langholm he had walked in the very footsteps of his forefathers. He was an immeasurably richer man.”
The following year introduced a new era for Atlanta Baptist College despite increasing racial tension in the United States—327 black men were lynched from 1910 to 1914 and 100 more during 1915. In 1913 the school was renamed Morehouse College, and Hope hired as assistants Benjamin Brawley, who innovated and organized the college’s curriculum, and Samuel Howard Archer. The college’s new slogan—”A Morehouse man cannot fail”—aptly described the many Morehouse graduates who later became leaders in education and other fields. Inspired by Hope’s belief that while the students may have to “ride in the back of the car” they should “think in the front,” Morehouse was, as Torrence described it, “in its atmosphere of freedom, ahead of its time.” Black historian Carter Woodson, author of The Negro in Our History, characterized Hope during these years as “a maker of men.”
In September of 1918, however, Hope went to France for nine months at the encouragement of Dr. Jesse E. Mooreland, senior international secretary representing the Negro troops on the National War Work Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). From the beginning of World War I, blacks had been discriminated against by the military’s official segregation policies and its practice of assigning black soldiers the most menial and contemptible tasks. Hope’s work as field secretary for the YMCA’s War Work Council included organizing rest facilities, overseeing the appointments of black secretaries for the black troops, and later assisting the soldiers in their return home.
Upon his arrival in France, Hope was assigned to the distinguished 92nd Division, which was involved in the Battle of Argonne Forest. As Torrence observed, “At times the battle of prejudice seemed to loom larger than the battle of France.” Despite the fact that Hope frequently referred to the government’s treatment of its black soldiers as “unfavorable,” “embarrassing to our peace and happiness,” and at times “unendurable,” he commented in a 1925 letter: “I do not know of anything in my career that has meant more to me than my nine months with our men in France.”
During the 1920s, Hope focused his energies on the rapidly growing Morehouse College, undertaking a massive building expansion project and developing the Atlanta School of Social Work. He continued his involvement in the plight of the returning black World War I soldiers and in race relations, accepting an invitation to join an Atlanta commission on interracial affairs. In The Story of John Hope, Torrence described the commission as the first in the history of Atlanta where black and white men served on the same committee with equal status in decision making.
Hope also continued to make trips abroad during the summers in his continued work for the YMCA. In an American Mercury article in 1924, W. E. B. DuBois described Hope and his work: “Morehouse changed from a white president to a colored president but the [Baptist] church which owned the school took a man of scholarship and character and unusual executive ability, it gave him increased appropriations, and he is building one of the finest institutions in the whole South, white or black. In it colored people see a colored institution with a colored faculty where their sons are getting sympathetic attention and first-class training, and they are beginning to yearn for more schools of that kind.”
In the spring of 1929, plans began to be made to put into action Hope’s long-held dream of affiliating Atlanta’s black institutions of higher education. In the spring the Atlanta University Affiliation contract was signed by the presidents of Atlanta University and Spelman and Morehouse Colleges. Hope was appointed president of Atlanta University while retaining the presidency of Morehouse College until an endowment fund was raised for Morehouse. Despite a great deal of controversy regarding the affiliation decision, Hope, according to Torrence, performed his duties with the belief that “one hundred years from now we’ll be thinking about ourselves quite differently because of this new experience.”
The affiliation agreement stated that Atlanta University would become an exclusive graduate school with Morehouse and Spelman Colleges remaining as liberal arts undergraduate schools. The three institutions agreed to make decisions based on “mutual understanding.” They shared facilities, including a newly built library, while retaining separate administrations. Morris Brown College and Clark University joined the Atlanta University system after Hope’s death.
Although Hope knew his decision to accept the presidency of Atlanta University meant he would not be able to fulfill his dream of visiting Africa and studying African history and its people, he fulfilled his duties knowing that what he planned for Atlanta University “may have a definite and far-reaching influence on what will be done fifty years hence,” according to The Story of John Hope. For his service to education, Hope, who believed that “there is a brotherhood that knows no creed nor color,” was awarded the coveted Harmon Award for distinguished achievement in education in 1930. He died of pneumonia on February 19, 1936, in Atlanta.
Adams, Myron W., A History of Atlanta University, Atlanta University Press, 1930.
Brawley, Benjamin, History of Morehouse College, Morehouse College, 1917.
Butler, Addie Louis Joyner, The Distinctive Black College: Talladega, Tuskegee and Morehouse, 1977’.
DuBois, W. E. B., Dusks of Dawn, Harcourt, 1940.
Factor, Robert L., The Black Response to America: Men, Ideals, and Organization, from Frederick Douglass to the NAACP, Addison-Wesley, 1970.
Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, editors, Dictionary of American Negro Biography, 1982.
Sally, Columbus, The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present, Citadel Press, 1993.
Torrence, Ridgely, The Story of John Hope, Macmillan, 1948.
Woodson, Carter G., The Negro in Our History, Associated Publishers, 1922.
American Mercury, October 1924.
Christian Century, March 11, 1936, p. 408.
Constitution (Atlanta), June 5, 1930.
Courier (Pittsburgh), March 28, 1936.
Negro History Bulletin, January 1960.
New York Times, June 18, 1935, p. 15; February 21, 1936, p. 17; November 15, 1935, p. 5. Opportunity, January 1927, pp. 20-2. Phylon, 2nd quarter, 1942; 1st quarter, 1947. Spelman Messenger, February 1936. Voice of the Negro, January 1904; July 1906.
—Mary Katherine Wainwright
African American educator, religious leader, and champion of racial equality, John Hope (1868-1936) early advocated liberal education for black youth and formed the first consortium of African American colleges in America.
John Hope was born in Augusta, Ga., on June 3, 1868. He finished the eighth grade, then worked in a restaurant. Encouraged to seek further schooling, in 1886 Hope enrolled in the Worcester Academy in Massachusetts. In 1890 he entered Brown University on a scholarship. Graduating in 1894, he was the commencement orator. That year Hope took a position at Roger Williams University in Nashville. He married Lugenia Burns in 1897; the couple had two sons.
Hope joined the faculty of Atlanta Baptist (now Morehouse) College in 1898. A master teacher, he deeply influenced the intellectual and moral growth of his students. He also had a strong impact on his peers. His writings were published in the Occasional Papers of the American Negro Academy and in other places. In 1906 he became the first black president of the college. As always, he stressed general culture, human dignity, and Christian principles.
Hope fought for racial equality in every way he could. In 1906 he joined W. E. B. Du Bois and others in the Niagara movement. He was the only college president (white or black) to participate in this protest meeting, which culminated in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1915 Hope was appointed to the NAACP advisory board.
Working to improve the living conditions of black people in Atlanta, Hope got Federal aid for slum clearance on Atlanta's West Side and secured funds for building model apartments for African Americans. During World War I, as special secretary for the YMCA in France, he devoted himself to the welfare of black soldiers there.
In 1929 Hope became president of Atlanta University, the first black institution in the South to offer graduate degrees. Under his leadership the university attained the highest regional accreditation rating a black institution could receive. Hope worked to affiliate Atlanta's six black colleges; three affiliated in 1929, and the others joined later.
Among his many honors, Hope was elected Phi Beta Kappa at Brown in 1919. He received the Harmon Award for distinguished service in education in 1929 and was awarded the doctor of laws degree by Bates College and Brown, Bucknell, Howard, and McMasters universities. He served as president of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools, the Georgia Commission for Work among Negro Boys, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Among his other positions, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Urban League and a delegate to the International Missionary Council.
Hope died on Feb. 20, 1936. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal posthumously for his outstanding services to African Americans.
The only full and complete biography of Hope is Ridgely Torrence, The Story of John Hope (1948), which is a thoroughly researched work. Clarence A. Bacote, The Story of Atlanta University: A Century of Service, 1865-1965 (1969), contains a chapter dealing with Hope's administration. There is a sketch of Hope in Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Historical Negro Biographies (1967; 2d ed. 1968). □