Herman Bryan SuggThe son of slaves, Herman Bryan Sugg grew up hearing stories of his father’s escape from slavery in Greene County to link up with General Sherman’s Union Army as it marched through the Carolinas. Sugg heard of how his father was forced to sleep outdoors, like a dog, and how his mother was fortunate enough to have been taught to read by her masters. From this, H.B. Sugg rose from poverty to become a successful leader and molder of future generations. Stories of his parents’ experiences as slaves doubtlessly colored the imagination of H.B. Sugg as he struggled to attain an education. With the shadow of slavery’s injustices still fresh in the minds of many in the South, H.B. Sugg was able to rise above the challenges that faced him through hard work, dedicated study, and personal initiative to become an educational leader in Farmville, North Carolina.
In the post-Slavery United States, H.B. Sugg’s life experiences were varied. He was born and reared on a farm in Greene County near Snow Hill. His early life consisted of farm labor and occasional elementary schooling. Sugg’s formal education was obtained at the Mary Potter Memorial School at Oxford, NC, and later at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania. As a youth, Sugg commented that work on the farm often superseded the demands to be at school for most kids. But Sugg loved going to school so much that he found ways to be there. Sugg stated: “I’d do my share of the work. I’d get up early and feed the stock or do whatever else I was told. After school and on Saturday’s, I’d have to do big jobs like hauling wagonloads of firewood for the coming week. I’ve picked cotton many a time by moonlight so I’d be free to go to school the next day.”
In his mid-twenties Sugg attended Mary Potter School in Oxford, North Carolina. Sugg lived in a dormitory on campus while pursuing his studies at Mary Potter, and he continued to work before and after school and during the summers to pay for tuition and books. “In the summers I worked in the tobacco factory in Durham and also did some gardening there.” Following graduation from the Mary Potter School, Sugg went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and earned his B.S. degree in teaching. During his time as a student in Pennsylvania, Sugg continued to work to pay his way. Sugg: “[I] milked cows, fed stock, and cut wood to pay my way there. I also worked summers as a waiter on a passenger steamship which ran from New York to Massachusetts . . .”
Upon graduation from Lincoln, Sugg worked for six years in Lillington, North Carolina as well as serving as principal-teacher in Greene County for only a brief period of time. Military service during World War One interrupted Sugg’s teaching career. Folllowing his military service, Sugg began a career as principal of the school in Farmville. From 1918 to 1959, Sugg served as a teacher and principal in Farmville, North Carolina. Additional work outside of the classroom did not cease once Sugg came to Farmville: “I’d have to do odd jobs at night and go to Durham to work in the tobacco factory just to support my family."
Sugg’s leadership in Farmville saw the Farmville Colored School grow from a four-room make-shift hotel hall school house into a brick and mortar building consisting of thirty-two rooms and thirty-four teachers. Sugg said that in 1918 “there were 54 different colored schools in Pitt County. All of these were little frame shacks and were one, two, and three teacher schools. The successful growth of what became H.B. Sugg school is an inspiring one in itself. Sugg recalled that in 1922, he and his students helped construct the new location of their school: “ The new school was built on State land which had been cleared of woods by Sugg and ‘his boys’ after school hours and on Saturdays. [Tree] stumps which were too large to be dug or chopped out were dynamited by farmers whom Sugg hired with his own money.” Besides continuously reinforcing the 3 R’s, the Farmville Colored School -- renamed after H.B. Sugg in 1951 -- grew to include a Home Economics Department, Industrial Arts course, a “52 piece band,” as well as a “gymnatorium.”
Sugg achieved success because of his never faltering faith in the dignity of man and the value of education for all children. The most fruitful years of his life were dedicated to the advancement of a constantly expanding Farmville community. Success has crowned his efforts. A picture and caption in the Daily Reflector on January of 1974 clearly captures a moment in time that displayed the level of respect children had for him: In the picture an impeccably well dressed H.B. Sugg, clad in suit jacket, tie, and hat stands amid four young, and smiling, middle school aged African American children: “ARE YOU THE REAL MR. SUGG?”
author: Steven A. Hill
Sources: (From “Digest: The Pitt County Teachers Association” Friday, October 6, 1961.” “Daily Reflector January 27, 1974, “He Loved Learning and He Shared It” “Daily ReflectorSugg Watched, Helped School Growth (undated, found in Sheppard Memorial Library)