Embattled Saint Augustine's has been a 'powerful addition to community'

Akilah Davis Image
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
Saint Augustine's troubled present belies its rich history and legacy
Those close to Saint Augustine's say it has a rich legacy and has produced many success stories.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As Saint Augustine's University faces financial and accreditation challenges, the legacy around the HBCU's presence in the community remains one that has touched the lives of many.

"Saint Augustine's has been a powerful addition to the community," said Irene Clark, a self-proclaimed historian who showed ABC11 old photos of the university. "You can just see by the architecture as well as the landscaping that it was humble beginnings."

When it comes to the rich history of this Historically Black College, Clark, 85, is among the few living to tell it. An HBCU graduate herself turned advocate and educator, she retired from Saint Augustine's after teaching at the school for three decades.

There are many, many persons who came through Saint Augustine's that have gone on to do great things in this world.
- Irene Clark

Clark is among many watching as the university faces a firestorm of controversy.

She invited ABC11 into her library, which showcases the extensive research and documents she's collected for 30 years. Her research mostly centers on St. Agnes, a historic and medical landmark for African Americans that sits on the campus. It was built in 1896 to serve Black people along the East Coast and South when no one else would.

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Clark said the HBCU just north of downtown Raleigh has a legacy of educating educators, ministers and notable alum that she's taught, including former university president Dr. Everett B. Ward.

"There are many, many persons who came through Saint Augustine's that have gone on to do great things in this world," she said.

Dave Cannon is a proud alum and is the general manager of the Nissan dealership in Wake Forest.

"I wanted to be something in communications, TV, radio, something to that effect," Cannon said.

He said the school gave him a solid foundation and is disheartened by the recent news of his alma mater.

Despite that, he's hopeful the school will pull through and produce more success stories like him.

"So, we can't just move past the history of that and just say oh well, let's close the doors and move forward. No, this thing has been a staple in the community for a long time," Cannon said.

As for Clark, her research days are over, but conversations like this help remind her to pass the stories along to a younger generation.

"It reinvigorates that spirit of wanting to know more and wanting to be sure that the history is not forgotten," she said.