John Hope Biography

Educator, Journalist, Civil Rights Activist (1868–1936)
John Hope was a famed educator and civil rights activist who became the first African-American president of Morehouse College.


Born on June 2, 1868, in Augusta, Georgia, John Hope graduated from Brown and, after teaching for some years, became the first African-American president of Morehouse College. He and colleague W.E.B. Du Bois shared a fervent belief in acquiring educational opportunities for black citizens. Having also directed college affiliations under Atlanta University, Hope died on February 20, 1936.

Background and Education

John Hope was born on June 2, 1868, in Augusta, Georgia, to Mary Frances "Fanny" Butts and James Hope. His mother was a free African-American woman of mixed ancestry while his father had immigrated to the states from Scotland, launching a successful cotton mill business. Though prohibited by race codes from marrying, the two lived together and had several children.

After his father's death, a pre-adolescent John went to work at a lawyer's office and then at a restaurant. With financial aid, he was able to attend Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, becoming a well-rounded student with interests in academics and athletics. He later earned his B.A. from Brown University in 1894, where he was chosen to be commencement speaker. Hope wed Lugenia Burns of Chicago in 1897, with the couple going on to have two children.

President of Morehouse

Upon graduation, Hope took on a teaching position at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee as a natural sciences professor, also serving as a football coach and taking additional classes at the University of Chicago. Then in 1898, he took on a position teaching classics at Atlanta Baptist College, doing so for some years before being appointed in 1906 the college's fourth president. He thus became the first African-American president of the institution, which would be renamed Morehouse College in 1913.

Under his leadership the school's enrollment improved greatly, and in later years Hope worked to establish an affiliated system under the rubric of Atlanta University, with Morehouse and Spelman colleges becoming partnered and the city's additional African-American educational centers to follow. Hope became university president in 1929.

Du Bois and Niagara Movement

He and famed writer/scholar W.E.B. Du Bois had developed a close friendship during Hope's initial days of teaching at Atlanta Baptist; the two shared major ideologies via their steadfast belief in educational attainment for African-American citizens and challenging the racist status quo. A published writer as well, Hope was one of the participants in the 1905 Niagara Movement meeting. Its trailblazing Declaration of Principles paved the way for the creation of the NAACP, on whose board Hope served.

He also travelled to Europe extensively during the second decade of the 1900s, visiting his Scottish homeland and working with African-American military personnel during WWI as part of the YMCA's National War Work Council, challenging prejudicial treatment.

Hope received several honorary degrees over the course of his lifetime, among other accolades. He died at 67 from pneumonia on February 20, 1936, in Atlanta.

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