The unmitigated gall

Published June 27, 2024

By Cash Michaels

By now we’re all aware of the well publicized financial problems plaguing  the pride of Falcon Nation, St. Augustine’s University (SAU) in Raleigh. The private, small, Episcopalian historically Black university is so far behind in its bills, folks are actually talking about the very real possibility of it closing its doors, maybe as soon as next year.

Recent reports indicate that St. Aug’s employees haven’t been paid since March, in addition to millions in big debts owed various vendors and the federal government. So the Falcon (the school’s mascot) certainly is in no mood for crappy headwinds at this juncture.

But recently, it was revealed via a June 17th letter issued by St. Aug’s Chairman of the Trustee Board, Brian Boulware, that the business buzzards in the Capital City see the school’s dire straits as a juicy opportunity to make a move on the other proud historically black institution in town, Shaw University.

        And those buzzards are circling both schools.

Shaw U is one of the oldest private HBCUs in the country, has a proud “Shaw Bears” heritage and tradition, and while it’s purportedly in better financial shape than St. Aug’s, it’s recently made some controversial moves to lease some of its prime 28 acre downtown Raleigh property to developers so that it could generate the kind of revenue necessary to keep the institution going.

        According to some people, downtown Raleigh is not the destination location it purports to be, and could use all of the development help it can get.

By maintaining ownership of the property, controlling the development, and remaining in its current location, The ShawU District business model allows additional funding and resources derived from development partnerships to strengthen the University and its ability to reinvest in its students, infrastructure, and the overall campus community, the school’s website promotes.

Leasing owned property in Raleigh isn’t new, by the way. Ever hear of the Mission Valley Shopping Center in West Raleigh? It's still there.

Uh-huh. Part of 600 acres owned by the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, which includes apartment buildings, gas stations, and part of NC State University.

Mission Valley also used to be an African-American community until the 1980s.

Anyway, according to SAU Chairman Boulware’s letter to the “Falcon Nation,” apparently the business buzzards are priming their beaks, and licking their chops, about Shaw U’s property-rich, cash-poor situation.

Boulware wrote, “ One example of our difficulties occurred during a business meeting with influential Raleigh business leaders. I accompanied SAU’s Interim President, Dr. Marcus Burgess, to an invited dinner. In attendance were a television station owner, a former editor of the local newspaper, a prominent local developer, and executives of another local higher educational institution. 

 After exchanging pleasantries, the owner of the television station stated, “Let’s get to the bottom of this: Raleigh doesn’t need two black universities. We need the two to merge. I don’t care what you call it. However, we need them both on SAU’s property because we need downtown land to expand the development footprint.” I turned to the other university's president in attendance and asked, “Do you agree with this?” She responded, “I’m going to reserve judgment.” I later learned that her Board Chairman had floated the idea of a “merger” to the former SAU Chairman three or four weeks before the dinner, which he didn’t take seriously. 

 Additionally, the local developer stated, “You have no leverage in this situation. You need to consider this as an option.” The developer informed us that the Raleigh business community shared similar sentiments, thus limiting our access to financial resources. Following a tense dialogue, rejection of the proposal, and the conclusion of dinner, we left promptly. The next day, an article and a news report highlighted the financial challenges SAU and other regional HBCUs in NC faced. Shortly after that, a targeted campaign against SAU ensued. 

WRAL-TV and WTVD-TV identified three of the business bigshots present as local developer Smedes York, former News and Observer publisher Orage Quarles and Capitol Broadcasting’s CEO Jim Goodmon.

Now please let me get a few things straight here.

        I know Jim Goodmon to be a straight arrow and good man who has always been supportive of important projects in Raleigh's African-American community. There wouldn't be an annual Triangle Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Breakfast at the Sheraton Imperial RTP every year for the past two decades if Jim Goodmon hadn't opened his considerable checkbook to help underwrite it. So I would be very surprised if he made the crass "We don't need two Black universities in Raleigh..." statement. Jim Goodmon is no Bozo, and I've always respected the man!

    On the other hand, Raleigh real estate/construction tycoon Smedes York would say something like that. A couple of years ago, old Smedes openly complained about a Black-owned YMCA on Garner Road in Raleigh, strongly suggesting that it was not needed because it apparently was attracting a strong following from folks who were not going to another Y across town that he apparently favored.

        The Garner Road Family Y hadn't done anything wrong. Smedes just felt it wasn't needed. I remember because I reported the story. So as far as I'm concerned, though I don't have any evidence that he did, I believe that Smedes would say something as coldbloodedly disrespectful as has been alleged by Chairman Boulware.

        Hopefully we'll find out who said, or didn't say what, sooner than later.

 Now I haven’t covered the Raleigh news beat since I left The Carolinian newspaper in 2016, but I, and certainly many others, knew that the business community had been salivating over getting its hands on Shaw U’s prime downtown property since the 1990s, if not earlier.

So when I read this letter, I wasn’t surprised, but I was concerned.

And I wasn’t the only one. 

Alums from both schools sounded off on Facebook, and many of them said it better than I could.

 “This is exactly what we've been talking about since 2008, “ opined The Friends of Shaw U. “…billionaire developers are wheeling and dealing with the [Shaw] administration and the board to completely eliminate our existence along with all the Black people who live in this neighborhood. 

“And so, here we are,” posted a Shaw U alumna named “Lauren.”

“Not alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents or other constituents think it's a good idea that Shaw & St Aug merge.” 

“The DEVELOPERS are saying, "we have a vision for Downtown. It's going to be GREAT!  But first, let's move these Negros out of the way."

Another Shaw U alum blasted the school’s administration for allegedly not being straightforward about its future plans for the campus property.

“If they were REALLY interested in growing the university, they would SAY SO. Not only are they willing to sell out - they are going to do it at the expense of obliterating our history.  The board has a history of enriching themselves. Does anybody really think that they'll stop now? Shaw is sitting on a property that is worth well over a billion dollars.”

As a native New Yorker, I did not attend college in the South, but after 43 years here as a Black journalist, I’ve certainly come to know and appreciate what the proud legacies of Shaw University and St. Augustine’s University mean not only to the city of Raleigh, but to the state of North Carolina.

Take Shaw U, for instance. As one social media poster noted, Shaw is:

The first HBCU in the South, founded in 1865 with Baptist affiliation

  The first HBCU to own a public radio station in the country

The first school in the country with a 4 year medical college

The home of the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

The home of Ella Baker, the mother of the civil rights movement

The home of the first dormitory for Black women in the country

The home of an Islamic mosque

The school that had world renowned performer Stevie Wonder on its 

         board of trustees, and famous litigator Willie Gary as an alum and chair


As for St. Aug’s:

Founded in 1867, affiliated with the Episcopal Church

The home of St. Agnes Hospital, the only hospital serving the Black community with 

         medical care and training in Raleigh

St. Augustine's Chapel and St. Agnes Hospital are designated Raleigh Historic 


The nation’s first historically black college to have its own on-campus commercial 

         radio and television stations 

Sits on 105 acres

Prominent people who attended St. Aug’s include sisters Bessie and Sadie Delany, 

        authors of the best selling memoir, Having Our Say

State Auditor Ralph Campbell Jr.

Joseph Holt, whose family first challenged Raleigh Schools segregation

Internationally acclaimed track and field Coach George “Pup” Williams

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, civil right leader

Two distinguished institutions of Black higher learning, indeed. And through the years, both have generated tens of millions of dollars annually in their respective neighborhoods/communities. Yes, they’ve had their problems, but to the best of my knowledge, neither St. Aug’s or Shaw U has hurt or threatened anybody during the course of their existence. Both have set about the business of their missions - to educate all students (Black or white - yes, most HBCUs also have a percentage of white students attending, along with at least 30 percent of their faculties also being white) who enter through their gates.

In return, these schools have produced teachers, lawyers, military officers, ministers, elected officials and others who've proudly serve our country.

So when I read that some big britches business moguls told administrators of two historically distinguished African-American universities to their faces, “Raleigh doesn’t need two black universities. We need the two to merge. I don’t care what you call it. However, we need them both on SAU’s property because we need downtown land to expand the development footprint,” not only do I find that extraordinarily condescending and disrespectful, but it also tells me that these clowns have little to no respect for my community, which I resent.

What if I jumped off and told them that Raleigh doesn’t need five predominately white institutions within its borders? Gee, they all sit on several acres of prime property in, and  within miles of downtown Raleigh.

       William Peace University only has a few hundred students enrolled, and it reportedly has been fiscally shaky in recent years.

        NCSU could easily absorb the Peace student body, and, taa-daaa, free up that property.

 So why not merge those two?

Because it would be senseless, and disrespectful, that’s why!

Yes, I realize that Raleigh, like many other cities and towns across North Carolina, has grown over the past decade. And if there’s a dilapidated property somewhere that its owner has just point blank neglected for many years, they have only themselves to blame if the local government uses the power of imminent domain to take it over and improve its value.

The late Senator Jesse Helms and his wife were purportedly absentee landlords in Black Southeast Raleigh, and from what I hear, their tenants did not live in the best of conditions.

But Helms and the missus still collected the monthly rent money, didn’t they?

        And nobody talked about taking any of their properties away from them, did they?

Mind you, in cities like Wilmington, Charlotte and yes, even Raleigh, the Black community has seen gentrification take homes away from Black folks, rehabilitate the area, then sell the rehabbed properties to upper income young white professionals, leaving the Black families who first lived there stranded to find shrinking affordable housing elsewhere.

To say the least, the Black community isn’t happy with this, especially when elderly people are displaced out of homes they’ve lived most of their lives in.

And of course I don’t have to remind you of the shady developers who, for decades now, have coerced elderly folks out of their family’s property with what seemed like big fat checks to those elderly land owners, but in fact were simply more money than they’ve ever seen before, so they had no idea by how much they’re actually being cheated out of. The practice is disgraceful!

But to tell two Black legacy institutions “You’re going to merge because we say so,” that’s beyond the pale, and just tells me how damn greedy these developers are, and always will be.

Especially the part about you thinking you can just tell folks what to do with their property.

If I’m not mistaken, Shaw U, to the consternation of their alums, has rezoned some of their property for the purpose of leasing it for development.

But greedy development pigs don’t want some. Now they want ALL! 

That tells me Shaw U had better pay attention to what happens next as they move forward, because it wouldn’t surprise me if developers and big business folks pull a couple of legislative rabbits out of their hats to compel St. Aug and Shaw U to merge, just to meet their bloodsucking needs.

I agree with how the website Livable Raleigh put it:

If Shaw is removed, there will no doubt be a marker to tell us that a great African-American university once existed at the center of life in “old” Raleigh, but it had no place in our “new” Raleigh.

        Shaw is not prospering, that’s clear. It is losing students, losing faculty, losing its identity. It needs a plan, but most of all it needs leaders who know what it’s worth, not just as real estate to be exploited, but as a place of learning for diverse student bodies in a city that values their minds. 

If Shaw and St. Aug do merge, it should only be because they individually want to, NOT because ole’ massa ordered it! Apparently St. Aug Board Trustee Chair Boulware agrees, and has rejected the merger suggestion.

         Now a source called to warn me that some of this may be a distraction on Boulware's part because he's being sued and is under fire for the trouble St. Aug is in. There have been allegations that he's used SAU as his "personal piggy bank." Boulware denies this.

 We'll see how things ultimately shakeout. But if he is on the up-and-up, the last thing Boulware needs right now is this damn foolishness!

The unmitigated gall…!