St. Augustine's: Freedmen’s School to University

St. Augustine's College in 1900

St. Augustine’s College in 1900. Image from the Prezell R. Robinson Library.

On January 13, 1868, classes began at Raleigh’s Saint Augustine’s University.

Episcopal Bishop Thomas Atkinson pressed for the creation of the school, originally called, St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, to educate teachers to serve African American children across the state and nation. Atkinson said that such a school would be indispensable to the church in its mission to assist the nation’s newly freed African American population

Brinton Smith, who had come to North Carolina from New Jersey in 1866 to aid African Americans, was hired as the school’s first principal. Many of the school’s first students were former slaves.

The national Episcopal church began to officially support the St. Augustine’s in 1907, and the school began offering junior college classes in the early 1920s. In 1928, the college gained four-year college status, conferring its first bachelor’s degrees in 1932.  St. Augustine’s was the first historically black college to develop on-campus commercial radio and television stations.

It became a university in 2012, and despite persistent financial difficulties, has remained vibrant, offering more than 30 areas of study to just under 2,000 students from around country and the world.

Check out this digital collection from the HBCU Library Alliance to see more photographs and other primary materials from Saint Augustine’s early years.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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