"Thy Neighbor as Thyself:" The Neighborhood Union Collection

Lugenia Burns Hope and the Neighborhood Union

Founded in 1908, the Neighborhood Union, spearheaded by Lugenia Burns Hope, was the first, female-led Black social work organization in Atlanta. Hope had been trained by renowned social worker and lecturer Jane Addams in Chicago, and was a prominent First Lady when her husband, Dr. John Hope, served as the first African American president of Atlanta University and Morehouse College.  She, along with a core group of middle-class, educated, and community oriented Black women, formed the Neighborhood Union after a series of injustices in their community. They were appalled by the sudden and quiet death of a Black mother of three children in the neighborhood that went largely unnoticed, and outraged at the Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) opposition of Black leadership to community efforts. This organization became a model for the work done in surrounding communities, a forerunner of the Civil Rights Movement, and later became an example in Haiti and Cape Verde for community organizing and community building efforts.

The Neighborhood Union mobilized resources from Morehouse College, and other middle-class Blacks and students to change their neighborhood for the better. Their members were heavily involved in working with orphanages for Black children.  The Carrie Steele Orphan Home was founded in 1890 by Carrie Steele, a former slave who was employed as a laborer at the Atlanta Union Depot. The Home was later taken over by Mrs. Howard W. Pitts. The orphanage was renamed to the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home to honor Mrs. Pitts' contributions. The Leonard Street Orphan’s Home, led by Amy Chadwick, an Englishwoman (1890-1936) later became the Spelman College Nursery School. Gate City Free Kindergarten Association was started by Gertrude Ware in 1905. A free kindergarten and day care for children of mothers who had to work during the day, the association included members of the Neighborhood Union, such as Lugenia Burns Hope.  

Members of the Neighborhood Union, mostly comprised of women, were assigned to districts to increase “community consciousness.”  House-to-house visits were made, and women (with the help of Morehouse College students) implemented a survey of houses assessing the neighborhood needs.  In addition, members organized a health clinic in 1908, three years before their charter was secured in 1911. By 1927, other organizations such as the National Urban League took over some of the purview of the Neighborhood Union and by 1928 it was no longer the sole organization serving Black Atlantans in a social work capacity.  The Neighborhood Union remained active until the 1970s. 2011 makes the 100-year anniversary of the Neighborhood Union’s charter.

Due to the success of the Neighborhood Union, most of the social work of Atlanta for Blacks was turned over to their members. Prior to the Neighborhood Union's inception, there had been no organized structure for social work and community support for Blacks.  Some areas were plagued with crime, sections of the city had no clean water, and street trash pickup was nonexistent.  By 1911, the Neighborhood Union organized the Black communities into 5 neighborhoods. They also brought in a juvenile officer, Garrie Woods – a Morehouse Sociology Professor – along with other Professors to help with various Neighborhood Union initiatives such as organizing, and improvement of sanitation, road conditions, sewage/trash, waterways, health, housing, and recreation for youth.

The Neighborhood Union continued to serve the Atlanta community until the 1970s through various methods of education, social programs, and activism. 

For more information about the Neighborhood Union collection, click here to see the finding aid. 

"Thy Neighbor as Thyself:" The Neighborhood Union Collection