Saint Augustine’s University

Written By North Carolina History Project

Located in Raleigh, Saint Augustine’s University (now usually wirtten as St. Augustine’s University) was founded by the Episcopal Church in 1867. Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute was its original name  Like many institutions of higher learning established during the late 1860s and early 1870s, St. Augustine’s was created to educate freemen, yet whites directed its operations.   

The Freedmen’s Bureau, as it did in many efforts, cooperated with religious leaders when starting the normal school—a college to prepare teachers  In particular, the government agency worked with the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

In the early 1900s, the Episcopal Church started to financially support Saint Augustine’s, and in 1919 the school obtained junior college status. Less than a decade later, Saint Augustine’s Junior College developed into a four-year college in 1928; with the newly named Saint Augustine’s College first graduating class obtaining degrees in 1932. Another note of this growing period, Harold L. Trigg became the institution’s first black president in 1947.

Throughout its campus, Saint Augustine’s varied structures and buildings are a testament to all types of architecture. Built in 1895, Saint Augustine’s Chapel is reminiscent of Gothic architecture, whereas the Benson Library (1896) was built with a Romanesque approach. In addition to this variety, the Cheshire, Delany, and Hunter buildings, all built in the early 1900s, evoke the Classical Revival style. The college’s chapel along with St. Agnes Hospital are both noted for being historic landmarks in Raleigh.

The College has made many changes since 1867. The institution’s name has changed three times: Saint Augustine’s School in 1893; Saint Augustine’s Junior College in 1919; and Saint Augustine’s College, a year after it became a four-year college. In 1896 it formed St. Agne Hospital and Training School for Nurses.

In 1947, Harold L. Trigg became the school’s first African American president. According to Charles W. Wadelington in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, the school is also “the first historically black college to develop on-campus commercial radio (WAUG-AM 750) and television (WAUG-TV 68 stations.”

Saint Augustine’s College remains affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Enrollment in 2024 was 924 students. The institution offers degrees in business, education, math, natural science, military science, as well as other programs.

With an alumni body nearing the 10,000 mark, Saint Augustine’s College prides itself in its moral, Episcopalian background and academic programs that prepare students for graduate programs and careers. The Honorable Ralph Campbell, Jr., a 1968 graduate, was the first African American to be elected state auditor in North Carolina.

Notable alumni include Ruby DeMesme, who was an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force and Hannah Atkins, who became the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives in the state of Oklahoma. Other prominent alumni include a former Saint Augustine’s president, Prezell R. Robinson; a Grammy nominated music producer, Travis Cherry, and the first African American elected as North Carolina State Auditor, Ralph Campbell, Jr.   

In 2024, St. Augustine’s formally lost its accreditation from (and membership in) the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) due to the school’s financial problems. However, the school filed an appeal, and negotiations are ongoing, so that actual accreditation continues. Accreditation by a government-sanctioned accreditor like SACSCOC is necessary for a school to receive funds such as government loans and scholarships. While the administration of St. Augustine hopes to continue in operation, it has been required to work out a plan for students to finish their education elsewhere in case the school has to close down.