Did you know that there are two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that are affiliated with The Episcopal Church? I didn’t until Wednesday nights, September 11 – October 2 at GSL, when others and I studied the role our Church played in efforts to remedy the horrific impact of slavery on our African American brothers and sisters in Christ through the Church’s Becoming Beloved Community (BBC) initiative. In 2017, BBC was begun to address racial injustice and help Episcopalians to grow as a community of reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers who share a passion for the dream of God. BBC provides resources for those seeking racial healing, reconciliation, and justice through interrelated commitments to: telling the truth (about our churches and race); proclaiming the dream (of beloved community); practicing the way (of love in the power of Jesus); and repairing the breach (in society and institutions).
At one time there were eleven Episcopal HBCUs but financial difficulties lead to closure of all of them with the exception of Saint Augustine University in Raleigh, NC and Voorhees College in Denmark, SC.
I decided to learn more about Saint Augustine.
In 1867, the Founding Fathers of Saint Augustine’s University — members of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina — set out to make education accessible to newly freed slaves. Reverend J. Brinton Smith, D.D., secretary of the Freedman’s Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Right Reverend Thomas Atkinson, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina were among the founders. The new school, known at the time as Saint Augustine Normal School opened its doors for instruction on January 13, 1868.
In 1919, the institution was designated Saint Augustine’s Junior College since the faculty began to provide post-secondary instruction. It became a four-year institution in 1927 and was renamed Saint Augustine’s College the next year. Baccalaureate degrees were first awarded in 1931. On August 1, 2012, Saint Augustine’s College transitioned in name and status to Saint Augustine’s University.
Bishop Henry Beard Delany, a graduate of Saint Augustine’s who was born into slavery, became the first African American to become a Suffragan Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in 1918. Due to the Church’s policies on segregation, his ministry was limited to African American parishes.
Saint Augustine’s established St. Agnes Hospital and Training School for Nurses to provide medical care for and by African Americans. This was the first nursing school in the state of North Carolina for African-American students, and served as the only hospital in the state for African Americans until 1960. Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, was admitted to St. Agnes Hospital following an accident that led to his death in 1946.
Throughout its history Saint Augustine’s has excelled in academics and technical training. Alumna Anna Julia Cooper, a prominent educator and scholar, became the fourth African-American woman in United States to earn a doctoral degree. Saint Augustine’s was the first HBCU to own an on-campus commercial radio station and television station. Another alumnus, legendary head track and field coach and athletic director, George “Pup” Williams, built a dynasty in track and field and cross country at the University. Since he began coaching in 1976, Williams has coached 39 Olympians including three gold medalists.
The Episcopal Church has established the Absalom Jones Fund to support our remaining HBCUs. The fund is named for the first African American Episcopal priest ordained in 1804. For more information on how you can contribute go to https://www.episcopalchurch.org/development/HBCU.
photo: Bishop Henry Beard Delany, pictured in the center, in front of Saint Augustine's Chapel, 1918