John Hope’s own words are perhaps the most telling statement of his life’s work and his charac¬ ter: “If we are not striving for equality, in heaven’s name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our colored men to tell white peo¬ ple or colored people that we are not struggling for equality.
Yes, my friend, I want equality. Noth¬ ing less….If equality, political, economic, and social, is the boon of other men in this great country of ours, then equality, political, economic, and social, is what we demand….Rise, Brothers! Come let us possess this land. Never say:‘Let well enough alone.’ Cease to console yourselves with adages that numb the moral sense. Be dis¬ contented. Be dissatisfied….”
John Hope’s statement is par¬ ticularly striking when it is under¬ stood against the background of his situation. This speech was made in Nashville in 1906, and in response to Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise address (see no. 24).
John Hope was the president of Atlanta Baptist College at the time, and as such, a very vis¬ ible figure. In great opposition to Washing¬ ton and all the powerful white supporters of his college he was also a great friend of W.E.B. Du Bois (see no. 32).
Hope was born in Augusta, Georgia. He’d graduated with a B.A. from Brown University in 1894, and taught at Atlanta Baptist College for eight years before he became president. When he stood up as president and opposed the compromises of Washington and his supporters, John Hope was declaring publicly that he held equality above all other treasures, above even the security of his career.
That courage made him a great ally to Du Bois and the other influential members of the Niagara Movement. It also made him a powerful force in the field of education. Asserting that African-Americans must enter into higher education, Hope helped shape the policies of the nation’s schools by presiding over both Atlanta Baptist College and Atlanta University — an affiliate school that served both men and women.
He also presided over both the National Association ofTeachers ofColored Schools and the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History.A man held in the highest esteem, John Hope finished his life in the service of high¬ er learning after a lifetime of holding his peers to the ideal of equality.