The new movement to spotlight Atlanta’s underrepresented history took another step forward on Oct. 21.
A marker to Lugenia Burns Hope (1871-1947), a community organizer and social reformer whose national and local work for African Americans prefigured the Civil Rights Movement, was unveiled in Washington Park.
The marker is part of a nationwide program called National Votes for Women Trail. But it required local support organized by The Conservancy of Historic Washington Park. Conservancy Board Chair Christi Jackson was among those who celebrated its unveiling at the park’s natatorium at 102 Ollie St.
“We just wanted to say the installation of this marker is very important to all of us longstanding members of the community and Washington Park,” Jackson said in a later interview. “It’s important for it to be there in the face of rapid change and gentrification. We champion this monument so it will stand as a reminder of Black achievement in securing voting rights for all, in education, and in advocating for access to affordable housing and to building strong communities.”
While this particular marker comes from a national program, it fits into a broader trend of local effort. Post 1 At-Large Atlanta City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond, who secured City support for this marker, is also working on a program of local markers for the Civil Rights-era Atlanta Student Movement and a broader effort to get various markers and street signs connected to an online database of historical context information. Bond says the City accepted the donation of the Hope marker as part of “the theme of wanting to uplift all of Atlanta’s unknown but should-be-known history.”
Born in St. Louis, Lugenia Burns Hope came to Atlanta in 1898 with her husband, John Hope, who got a teaching job at what is now Morehouse College, where he later became president (and president at today’s Clark Atlanta University as well). A tireless organizer, she was involved in many organizations. Especially influential was the Neighborhood Union, which she co-founded with other Black women in 1908. Focused on improving the often deplorable conditions of African American communities in the Historic Westside and citywide, the Union took a novel approach of deploying Morehouse students to survey for various needs. Among many other outcomes was the establishment of Washington Park as the first publicly funded green space for an African-American community in the state, according to the Conservancy. Other long-term outcomes, according to Jackson, were establishing the former John Hope Homes public housing and Booker T. Washington High School, whose centennial arrives next year.
The Union’s community-based approach “laid the groundwork for the grassroots component of the Civil Rights Movement and became an international model for community building,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Voting rights were a major focus.
Voting rights were also emphasized in Hope’s work as the first vice president of the NAACP’s Atlanta chapter. She organized six-week civics classes for African Americans to encourage voter registration and participation.
According to the encyclopedia, Hope was more radical than many of her contemporaries and sometimes had friction with mainstream leaders in an era when accommodating segregation and other racist systems was Atlanta’s norm.
The voting rights aspect of Hope’s work got the attention of the National Votes for Women Trail organizers, whose program maps national history sites and helps to establish markers and other forms of recognition. The marker concept was promoted by the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, which was created by Congress to memorialize the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the Nineteenth Amendment, which secured the right to vote for some women (and now all women, thanks to other laws lifting racist restrictions). The program was coordinated by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Site and funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.
However, those partners needed local applicants and approvals. Jackson said organizers contacted the Conservancy in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, with the offer to apply – on a four-week deadline. She says the Conservancy quickly marshaled support, including from Bond, whose commitment to local history is well known, and board member Jacqueline Jones Royster, a historian and former dean of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.
The pandemic “gummed up” the process, says Jackson, adding that she “came to loathe the words’ supply chain issues.'” But a year ago, the marker finally appeared from the manufacturer. The process of City approval for installation in the park followed. The natatorium area was chosen, Jackson says, because its area is part of the original park and the facility is well-attended, ensuring more eyes on the marker.
“You can come right over and read those words and look it up, and you find out a whole lot more information about how Washington Park was created and the people who had a hand in making it happen,” says Jackson.
Despite the history of the Washington Park neighborhood that was created around the park, Jackson says, the Hope marker is one of only three there today. The other two are both at Fire Station 16 on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. One commemorates Atlanta’s first Black police officers and firefighters. The other is for championship boxer Theodore “Tiger” Flowers, whose mansion stood where the fire station is now.
Jackson says there is now talk of getting a marker for the park itself, which has City landmark status – and possibly others. “It’s one of the most historic areas [and] neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta,” she says. “Every other street, there were people who built their homes here in the ’20s and beyond who did extraordinary things that contributed not just to the city and the state but the nation. And it’s a monumental task to find the ways to get everybody recognized.”
Bond is still working on his program of QR codes on markers and signs that could link visitors to oral histories and videos about the Student Movement and other historic moments. He said that work with the Atlanta Department of City Planning is underway and he hopes to have a draft of the program in a couple of months.
Jackson says that marking history is a lot of work but worth it to spotlight the likes of Hope, who left a “living legacy” with “an everyday impact.”
“I am just so grateful for the support from my friends, family and my colleagues,” said Jackson of the marker effort. “I think that people don’t understand how hard it is. It takes time and a lot of effort to make monuments appear. It is not easy work, and I’m very proud that we have achieved this, especially in memory for someone who had a reach and an impact.”