Johnson C. Smith University historical marker

Johnson C. Smith University (L-101)

Est. in 1867 as Biddle Memorial Institute for freedmen. Became a university, 1877. Present name adopted in 1923.

Location: Beatties Ford Road at Dixon Street in Charlotte
County: Mecklenburg
Original Date Cast: 2001

Established in 1867 by the Presbyterian Church, modern-day Johnson C. Smith University was known from that year until 1876 as Biddle Memorial Institute. Samuel C. Alexander, minister at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, took a lead role in the establishment of a school “for the education of preachers and teachers among the ex-slaves, realizing that only in this way could they be fitted for Christian citizenship.” Around 3,000 former slaves lived in Mecklenburg County in 1867. Stephen Mattoon was the first president, presiding over the school for fourteen years.

Mary D. Biddle of Philadelphia raised $1,400 for the new school and selected the name to honor her late husband, Major Henry Biddle. W. R. Myers, a wealthy Charlotte businessman, donated the first eight acres of land on Beatties Ford Road for the campus. In 1876 the state legislature formally chartered the school at which time the name was changed to Biddle University. Biddle Hall, the centerpiece of the campus, was completed in 1884. The first African American president was Daniel Sanders, who served in the position from 1891 until his death in 1907.

In 1921 and 1922, Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh donated funds for a theological dormitory, science building, teachers’ cottage, and memorial gate. In addition, she established an endowment in memory of her late husband, Johnson C. Smith. In recognition of her gifts, trustees voted to rename the institution. Consequently, the charter was amended to reflect the new name in 1923. James B. Duke, the tobacco magnate, included the school as a beneficiary of the Duke Endowment, created in 1924, putting in place an affiliation that has benefitted the university greatly over the years.

In 1932 women first enrolled at JCSU. Today the school retains its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, reporting to its General Assembly through the Board of Christian Education. Since 1944 JCSU has been associated with the United Negro College Fund.

Inez Moore Parker, The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story (1975)
Johnson C. Smith University, University Catalog
Charlotte Observer, February 9, 1992
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