Students at Princess Anne Academy in 1902 did not have to look far to see how education could be transformative.
Frank Trigg, their new 52-year-old principal, was a former slave who lost an arm in a farming accident as an adolescent.
Unable to do manual labor, Trigg channeled his curiosity and intellect into overcoming those circumstances. He went on to become one of his generation’s pioneering black educators.
Trigg was born in Richmond, Va. in 1850. He was a servant as a child and following the Civil War he enrolled in Hampton (Va.) Normal and Agriculture Institute, a school for freed blacks opened to train teachers.
Hampton is where Trigg found his life’s passions – education and agriculture – and studied alongside Booker T. Washington. Trigg graduated with honors in 1873 and taught grade school for two decades in Lynchburg, Va., where he made history as the city’s first black male teacher and its first black high school principal.
When Pevazia O’Connell left the principal’s job at Princess Anne Academy in 1902, the school’s leaders turned to Trigg. The Academy had 12 faculty members when he came to campus.
The Colored American, which billed itself as the National Negro Newspaper, published a front-page profile on Feb. 7, 1903 praising Trigg as a forward-thinking educator.
“He will finally win his way to the front of the field of education among his people,” the paper quoted Hampton Institute founder Samuel C. Armstrong as saying.
The Somerset Journal said Trigg “deserves the highest commendation for placing the Princess Anne Academy at once on its feet.”
Trigg came to the Academy during a national movement to develop agricultural instruction at historically black schools. He saw education as a means to even out the playing field and felt strongly about encouraging land and home ownership.
In addition to science, he taught the Bible, child psychology, hygiene, literature, pedagogy and geography.
Trigg presided over the Academy's first four-year class to graduate in 1904; it consisted of nine students. By 1906, enrollment had grown to 188 students.
A man considered ahead of his time, he believed in educating boys and girls equally and made sure his students – as well as his 11 children – received the best education available.
Trigg left the Academy in 1910 with high praise for a successful tenure and returned to Lynchburg to lead Virginia Collegiate and Industrial Institute, which like Princess Anne Academy, was a branch of Baltimore’s Morgan College.
John Oakley Spencer, Morgan’s (white) president, described "Principal Trigg … (as) a teacher of ability, a good disciplinarian, and accomplishes his work with little friction."
In 1915, Trigg became president of Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., where he spent the next 11 years before retiring. He died April 21,1933 and is interred at the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, according to cemetery records. His wife, Ellen Preston Taylor Trigg, who also was a teacher, died in 1936.
Trigg Hall, a Colonial Revival building overlooking UMES' historic Academic Oval and which houses its Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, was named in his honor in 1957.
-- Veronique Diriker, Ph.D.