Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

American Studies

Reader 1

Rita Roberts

Reader 2

Julia Liss

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Rights Information

© 2016 Madeleine W. Pierson

Abstract

This thesis examines the work of reformer Lugenia Burns Hope and her community organization, the Neighborhood Union, as a case study to unpack scholarly characterizations of black elite uplift strategies during the early 20th century. The Neighborhood Union was established in 1908 in Atlanta by Hope and women from the community to build stronger neighborhoods and to combat the deleterious effects of the 1906 Race Riots and Jim Crow laws. Neighborhood Union settlement houses provided basic and extracurricular services, including kindergartens for working mothers, vocational classes, and lecture series. The organization’s exceptional, multi-class leadership structure enabled members of the black poor and working classes to lead their own projects with the assistance of Neighborhood Union resources.

Hope’s background provides evidence against broad generalizations of the black elite as paternalistic, and her vision of creating democratic communities that diminished class barriers provides a counter narrative to characterizations of clubwomen and the black elite as engaging in respectability politics in their social work. Understood within its historical and sociopolitical context, Hope’s life and work also challenge mainstream narratives of the Progressive Era and the Social Gospel movement.