John Hope, educator and university president noted for his ability to impart encouragement and stimulation to his students, began his distinguished academic career in Tennessee during the racially turbulent 1890s. John Hope was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1868, into a prosperous family headed by James and Mary Frances Hope. The oldest child, he received his early education in area schools under the tutelage of teachers and community leaders such as William Jefferson White, George Williams Walker, and Lucy Laney. He went from Augusta to Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, and from there to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1894.
Hope then joined the faculty of Roger Williams University in Nashville. At Roger Williams, he taught natural science, Latin, and Greek and volunteered as football coach. He also spoke out for African American rights beyond the vision then prevailing among black leaders like Booker T. Washington. At a speech in Nashville in 1896 Hope remarked: “Let us not fool ourselves nor be fooled by others. If we cannot do what other freemen do, then we are not free. Yes, my friends, I want equality. Nothing less. I want all that my God-given powers will enable me to get, then why not equality?” (1) In late 1897 he married Lugenia Burns from Chicago, Illinois. The Hopes had two children, Edward and John Jr.
In 1898 he took a position at Atlanta Baptist College, now Morehouse College; the remainder of his career would be based in Atlanta. He continued his teaching and coaching and became increasingly involved in community issues. He was active in the Niagara Movement that led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote newspaper articles, and gave speeches on a broad array of topics. In 1906 John Hope became the first African American president of Morehouse College. He was awarded many prizes and honors for his accomplishments, including the Harmon Award in Education in 1929, and honorary degrees from Bates College, Brown, Bucknell, Howard, and McMaster Universities. He served as president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, as a board member of the National Council of the YMCA, and during World War I as special secretary of the YMCA in France. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP after his death in 1936.