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Biddle Hall

Shortly after slavery was abolished in the southern states, many white missionaries and ministers made plans to establish churches and schools to evangelize and educate former slaves. Although the missionaries faced many challenges as they began to implement their plans, they remained dedicated to the success of their mission. Many of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in existence today, including Johnson C. Smith University, are the result of these endeavors.

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Rev. S. C Alexander Rev. W. L. Miller

 Rev. Samuel C. Alexander Reverend Sidney S. Murkland, and Rev. Willis L. Miller ,were among those people who were concerned about the welfare of the newly freed slaves. These ministers organized and formed the Catawba Presbytery on October 4, 1866. Through the influence of Reverend S. C. Logan, Secretary of the Assembly’s Committee on Missions for the Freedmen, Reverend Miller was given the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in order to present a proposal for the establishment of a school. The proposal was approved and the plans for the operation of the institution were drawn up during the meeting of the Catawba Presbytery on April 7, 1867. The school, which was for men only, was incorporated under the laws of North Carolina in the spring of 1867. Rev. Samuel. C. Alexander and Rev. Willis L. Miller were appointed as professors. Reverend Miller assumed the additional responsibility of acting as the financial agent for the school.

Reverend Alexander organized the Colored Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, but neither the church nor the school had found a suitable building. Reverend Alexander purchased several lots on “C” Street in Charlotte, and a building given by the Freedmen’s Bureau was transferred to this land. This building served as both the school and as a place of worship for the Colored Presbyterian Church of Charlotte. With approximately eight men, the first session of class was held in this building on May 1, 1867.

In response to an appeal to raise money to support the school, Mrs. Mary D. Biddle of Philadelphia, donated $1,400.00. After learning about this generous donation, members of the black community expressed their desire to honor Mrs. Biddle by naming the school the Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute in memory of Mrs. Biddle’s husband, Major Henry J. Biddle who died from the injuries he received in a Civil War battle. The school was chartered with this name by the legislature of North Carolina until 1876.


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Major Henry Biddle Colonel William R. Myers

In order to obtain a more suitable location for the school, Reverend S. C. Logan attempted to purchase eight acres of land from Colonel William R. Myers. Colonel Myers wanted to sell the school 130 acres of land for $3,000.00; however, the school could not afford to purchase the entire 130 acres. Initially, Colonel Myers resisted the idea of selling only eight acres of land, but he later decided to donate the eight acres of land to the school. With a gift of $10,000 given to the Freedman’s Bureau by Mrs. Mary Biddle, the construction of two professors houses and the main building began immediately on this property. These buildings were completed in the fall of 1868 and the school relocated to its present site on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte. Biddle Hall, built in 1883, and Carter Hall, built in 1895, are the oldest buildings still standing on the original eight acres of land.

Reverend Stephen Mattoon became the first president of Biddle Memorial Institute in 1870. Under Mattoon’s administration, the curriculum was expanded and twelve additional acres of land were purchased. In 1883, the legislature of North Carolina amended the school’s charter to change the name of the institution from the Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute to Biddle University.

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Mrs. Jane Berry Smith

Mr. Johnson C. Smith

From 1921 to 1929, Mrs. Jane Berry Smith Mrs. Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania donated a total of $702,500 for the erection of nine buildings, and the establishment of a permanent endowment. In recognition of her generosity, the school charter was amended on March 1, 1923 changing the name of the institution to Johnson C. Smith University in memory of her late husband, Mr. Johnson C. Smith. Financial support for the university grew tremendously when James B. Duke, a wealthy business owner from Somerville, New Jersey established the Duke Endowment on December 11, 1924 and included Johnson C. Smith University as one of the beneficiaries. 


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James B. Duke

Johnson C. Smith University became a fully coeducational institution in 1932,  when women were admitted to both the Junior and Senior Division.

 Historical Highlights:

  • In 1886, Biddle University appointed the first black professor at a four-year college for blacks in the southern states.

  • In 1891, Biddle University elected the first black president of a four-year college for blacks in the southern states.

  • The first black football game in the United States was played by Biddle University against Livingstone College. This historical game, which took place on December 27, 1892, marked a new era in collegiate football.

  • In 1919, Biddle University became the first black college in the south to offer professional courses in education in a four-year college program.

  • Johnson C. Smith University received one of the largest philanthropic endowments granted to a black college in 1924.

  • In 1928, Johnson C. Smith University erected the first gymnasium on a black campus in North Carolina.

  • In 1932, Johnson C. Smith University became the first black college in North Carolina to receive regional accreditation.

  • In 1938, Johnson C. Smith University became an independent university when it was released from the Board of National Missions.

Alumni Profiles:

 Achievements of JCSU Alumni:

  • Dr. Henry Hill, the only African American to become President of the American Chemical Society.

  • Congresswoman Eva M. Clayton, the first African American woman to represent the people of North Carolina in the United States House of Representatives.

  • Dr. Eric Ran, President of World Vision

  • Edward R. Dudley, first African American ambassador to Liberia.

  • Mildred Mitchell-Bateman, Head of the Department of Mental Health, State of West Virginia.

  • Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy, first female President of Johnson C. Smith University.

  • Dr. James Costen, first African American Moderator of the Presbyterian Church.



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This digitization project was made possible by a grant from the NC ECHO division of the North Carolina State Library.

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