- Lugenia Burns Hope
The 2016 film, Hidden Figures, loosely based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, introduced moviegoing audiences to three Black female mathematicians who worked for NASA: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The film not only entertained audiences, but also raised the question of whose story historians choose to center. Much like these women's stories, the story of Lugenia Burns Hope is not publicly well known, but her influence and her life's work in community activism laid the foundation for various programs that still exist today. Her commitment to improving the quality of life for Black people led her to join organizations that served this purpose and to become a founding member of her own organization, the Neighborhood Union. Burns Hope served as the president of the Neighborhood Union in Atlanta, Georgia, and the structures and policies she developed were adopted in Haiti and Cape Verde in their efforts at community building. This is just one of the many examples of her legacy as a reformer and a leader.
Born on February 19, 1871, to Ferdinand and Louisa M. Bertha Burns, Lugenia Burns Hope first lived in St. Louis, Missouri. However, after the death of her father, her mother decided to move to Chicago to provide a better education for Lugenia. She attended high school, special study classes, the Chicago Art Institute, the Chicago School of Design (now also a part of the Chicago Art Institute), and the Chicago Business College. Lugenia withdrew from school to support her family when two of her siblings lost their jobs. She worked as a bookkeeper at Acme Printing and Engraving Company for eight years and she also worked as a dressmaker.
Burns Hope developed her sense of community activism in her hometown of Chicago. Life here exposed Lugenia to the political activism that was prevalent in the Black community of Chicago. Her first taste of community work started when she was appointed as the first Black secretary to the Board of Directors of Kings Daughters, a charity organization that worked with the sick and needy, helped to bury the poor, and provided services for working teenage girls. During this time, she also became the personal secretary of the director of the Silver Cross Club, an organization that operated cafeterias for Chicago businessmen and women.1 Her duties as secretary led her to assist at Jane Addams's Hull House, and she was introduced to the settlement house model. Indeed, Hope described her time in Chicago as influential to her growth: "I have always felt it the privilege of my life to have had that rich experience–their [club [End Page xii] patrons'] joys and sorrows were poured into my ears and heart. They came for advice–as young as I was. We thought these problems through and they were helped."1[p.17] Hope's time in Chicago as a community worker and the breadwinner of her family not only sowed the seeds for her later work in community organization, but it also gave her the values of self-sufficiency, hard work, and independence—values that she would carry with her for the rest of her life.
On December 29, 1897, Lugenia Burns married John Hope. The couple moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where John Hope taught natural sciences at Roger Williams University. Six months after their marriage, the couple moved to Atlanta, Georgia where John was hired as an instructor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College, of which he later became president (in 1906). Atlanta would become the place where Lugenia carried out most of her life's work. She began her journey into charity work in Atlanta when she became the chairperson of a committee to raise money for free kindergartens for the children of working mothers. This committee would expose Hope to the needs of the community around her, especially the needs of the children in her community. After the birth of her first son, Edward, in 1901, the lack of recreational places for children in the community became clearer to Hope. She rallied the wives of the faculty as well as other mothers in the community to petition...