The Founding of the Neighborhood Union
In 1908, Lugenia Burns Hope, along with eight other women met in the West End neighborhood and initiated the Neighborhood Union, an organization that would later be recognized as laying the groundwork for the grassroots component of the civil rights movement. In an effort to begin settlement projects and aid underprivileged Black communities in Atlanta, the members decided to get to know the residents of those communities by conducting door-to-door interviews of residents throughout the Westside of Atlanta. Membership expanded, and the women decided to name their group the Neighborhood Union and adopt the "Neighbor as thyself" motto. Armed with surveys, notebooks, and other equipment, the Neighborhood Union members and Morehouse College students evaluated the needs of various communities, and how those needs could best be met. These interviews revealed that Black communities in Atlanta suffered from a lack of sanitary homes and schools, medical and dental care, and recreational opportunities.
After the initial assessment of the neighborhoods, the Neighborhood Union divided the city into zones and created maps of those zones. Primarily made up faculty wives and women residing in the areas surrounding Spelman, Morehouse, and Atlanta University, the founding members adopted the following organizational structure in 1912: a president, 3 vice presidents, a treasurer, and 3 secretaries, or 8 staff members in total. Forty-two members sat on the Board, and 14 were in charge of each of the 14 districts mapped out and established by the Neighborhood Union. By 1918, there were sixteen zones in Atlanta. They divided the city into zones, districts, and neighborhoods, led by zone chairpersons, district directors, and neighborhood presidents who were supervised by a board of directors and a board of managers. By 1915, branches and their work were visible throughout Atlanta.
The initial mission and charter of the Neighborhood Union highlighted the organization as a charitable organization that worked to be “the moral, social, intellectual, and religious uplift of the community and neighborhood in which the organization or its branches may be established…” The membership was made up of the families of each local neighborhood and organized under its direction. The Neighborhood Union’s constitution states that the organization means “to organize clubs, branch societies for the needs and improvements of the neighborhood; to unite our efforts in breaking up dens of immortality and crime in the neighborhood…” The aim was to initiate settlement projects to aid underprivileged Black families. Racial uplift and social empowerment of their community was the primary concern of the organization. The Neighborhood Union proclaimed its mission: “to build playgrounds, clubs, neighborhood centers, to develop a spirit of comradeship among neighbors; to promote child welfare; to impart a sense of cultural heritage; to abolish slums and vice; and to improve the overall moral quality of the community.” Under Hope's leadership from 1908 to 1935, the membership carried out these goals though educational campaigns and other activism efforts.