|Among those were the conferences held at
Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes in the 1890s; they focused on rural issues such as farming
and the needs of the one-room schoolhouse. The Atlanta University conferences were
different in that they investigated problems associated with the 12 percent of blacks who
had moved to urban areas by 1890. Under the direction of George Bradford, a university
trustee, and university president, Horace Bumstead, the second Atlanta University
Conference on Problems of Negro City Life convened in Ware Memorial chapel on May 25,
1897. With the exception of Adella Hunt Logan's
speech titled "Prenatal and Hereditary Influences," the speeches considered here
were delivered at the separate Women's Meeting, to discuss issues designated of special
concern to them. As one historian writes, this "invisible wall assumed to exist
between men's and women's duties kept the two groups from working together on causes of
direct importance to both" (Neverdon-Morton 113). Taken together these addresses
reveal a great deal about perceptions of woman's work and the extent to which racial
uplift was home uplift.
Lucy Laney presided over the Women's Meeting and delivered the introductory address. By the time she spoke to the women at this 1897 conference, she was already an accomplished "race woman." Laney was born in Macon, Georgia, and grew up in a large and deeply religious family. She was one of the first women to receive degrees from Atlanta University in 1873. After teaching for several years in the Georgia public schools, Laney, in 1886, opened in Augusta what would later be named the Haines Normal Industrial Institute. It was a private school for black children, funded in part by the Presbyterian Church of the United States. One comment made when she traveled to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to solicit funds gives indication of her oratorical skills: "There was jealousy regarding her speaking for fear that her eloquence might win friends that were counted on for other causes" (Daniel 6). Her ability to apply this eloquence in speeches to Northern benefactors enabled her to keep the school nearly solvent with contributions alone.