Saturday, 23 February 2013


Last year, the Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was the first time a major Political Party’s convention had been held in the State. The diversity of delegates was a sight to behold – reflecting the representation’s depth within the Party.  My brother was truly honored to be a delegate from the State of Georgia, and loved every minute of it. 


Charlotte has also become very diverse, with the 2010 Census indicating that 55% of the population is non-White; and with the city having become a major, financial hub, many are Middle Class or even more socio-economically established.  However, it has not always been that way.


Charlotte youths

In 1867, the Reverend S.C. Alexander and the Reverend W. L. Miller saw the need to establish a higher-learning institution, for freedmen, in that part of the South. They hosted a meeting of the Catawba Presbytery in the old Charlotte Presbyterian Church, where the school was formally inaugurated. Its initial name was The Freedmen's College of North Carolina, and Reverends Alexander and Miller were elected as two of its teachers.  That same year, its sister college, Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) was established by Reverend Luke Dorland, to prepare the young daughters of former slaves, for careers as social workers and teachers.  Civil Rights Leader, Mary McLeod Bethune, was probably its most famous graduate.

Rev. Alexander

Rev. Miller

Scotia Seminary, 1891

Presbyterian church member, Mrs. Mary D. Biddle, of Philadelphia, pledged $1,400 to Freedmen’s College. In appreciation of this first contribution, Freedmen’s College of North Carolina became the Biddle Memorial Institute, in honor of her late husband, Major Henry Biddle. The Institute held that name until 1876, when Charlotte citizen, Colonel W. R. Myers, donated the first eight acres of land for the school. The school charter was then changed by the North Carolina Legislature; and the school’s name became Biddle University, under which name the institution operated until 1923.

Major Biddle

Biddle Hall
In 1891, Biddle University elected Dr. Daniel J. Sanders as the first African-American as President of a four-year institute in the South

Dr. Sanders

The next year, two days after Christmas, the first, Black inter-collegiate football game was played by Biddle University against Livingstone College, in the snows of Salisbury, North Carolina. An historic, first victory was secured by Biddle, primarily because they had spent the previous two years studying and practicing the sport of football. That victory began the annual tradition of what is today called the Commemorative Classic.  Student-athletes continue to comprise a significant part of the university’s programs, in award-winning sports, ranging from football to track & field, to golf & tennis. Its teams are nicknamed the Golden Bulls.

Biddle Football Team, 1892

From 1921 to 1922, Mrs. Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, donated funds to build a theological dormitory, a science hall, a teachers' cottage and a memorial gate. She also provided a large endowment for the university, in memory of her late husband, Johnson C. Smith, a successful, transportation construction businessman.   Until her death, Mrs. Smith donated funds for five more buildings, as well as a campus church. In recognition of these generous gifts, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the institution to Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), in 1923.

Mrs. Jane Berry Smith

Johnson C. Smith

In 1924, Industrialist, James Buchanan (“Buck”) Duke, authorized the establishment of the Duke Endowment, which included JCSU as one of four beneficiaries in higher education. While the largest share of that the Endowment's earnings are allocated to support Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, Buck’s donation required that 4% of its earnings be given to JCSU. Over the years, this share of the Endowment's distributions has exceeded $90 million and has funded several buildings and programs.


James B. Duke

1932 brought historic change to JCSU, as it was the year when the university's charter was amended to allow the admission of women. The 65-year-old institution for men then became partially coeducational. The first residence hall for women, named in memory of James B. Duke, was dedicated in 1940; and in 1941, women were admitted to the freshman class. In 1942, the university became a fully coeducational institution.


Two years later, JCSU joined the United Negro College Fund, as a founding member, in 1944. This fund was primarily organized to help church-related schools of higher learning to revamp their training programs, to expand their campuses, to promote faculty growth and to create new service offerings.


For the next fifty years, Johnson C. Smith University continued to grow and go from strength to strength. The student body is now close to 1,550; and the school awards Bachelor of Science, Arts and Social Work degrees to its graduates.

In 1994, JCSU alumna, Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy became the first female president of the university, serving until 2008. During her tenure, JCSU gained national recognition when it launched the IBM Laptop Initiative, known as ThinkPad U.  JCSU became one of the few colleges in the country, and the first HBCU, to provide an IBM laptop computer to every student.


Dr. Yancy

Always being a forward-thinking institution, in 2000, JCSU was acknowledged by Yahoo! Magazine in its list of the Top 50 Most Wired Small Colleges; and in September 2012, JCSU, in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, hosted UFUTURE: A Summit for Innovative Young Thinkers. The summit attracted high-profile politicians and celebrities to JCSU, and more than 300 students, from 20 regional colleges and universities, participated. Additionally, students from across the nation submitted questions via Twitter and text messages. During the event, President Barack Obama surprised the students with a tweet; and First Lady Michelle Obama surprised them with a letter about the importance of civic engagement.


Some notable JCSU alumni include: my cousins, Charles Timothy Martin, Jr. and Craig Todd Martin; Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American officer in the US Marine Corp; Edward R. Dudley, the first African-American US Ambassador; Richard Erwin, the first Black Federal Judge, in North Carolina; Dr. Albert E. Manley, former president of Spelman College ; Vincent Matthews, Olympic Gold Medalist;  Sandra L. Townes, New York District Court Judge; Fred “Curly” Neal and James “Twiggy” Sanders of The Harlem Globetrotters; and John Wesley Rice, Presbyterian minister and father of US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice..


Edward R. Dudley, being sworn in

Harlem Globetrotters, 1952

From a humble vision of two, Presbyterian ministers, to now being a Top 15 HBCU, as ranked by US News & World Report, Johnson C. Smith’s connections with businesses and organizations in Charlotte help teach students about the importance of community involvement, while also helping neighbors grow with the University. Charlotte would not be the same without it.

Sources: Wikipedia, Johnson C. Smith University, Google Images


  1. Thank you for this tribute to Johnson C. University! Very educational and insightful!

  2. Zena Martin,
    I would like permission to reproduce images from your blog.
    Thank you

  3. Thank you, Cynthia. Apologies for the delay. Please feel free to reference my blog. You will see at the bottom of the post, where I have referenced my sources.