History of the University

In 1867, the Rev. S.C. Alexander and the Rev. W. L. Miller saw the need to establish an institution in this section of the South. On April 7, 1867 at a meeting of the Catawba Presbytery in the old Charlotte Presbyterian Church, the movement for the school was formally inaugurated, and these two ministers were elected as teachers.

Mary D. Biddle, an excellent churchwoman of Philadelphia, Pa., who, through appeals in one of the church papers, pledged $1,400 to the school. In appreciation of this first and generous contribution, friends requested that Biddle name the newly established school after her late husband, Major Henry Biddle. From 1867 to 1876, the school was named Biddle Memorial Institute and chartered by the state legislature.

Colonel W. R. Myers, a wealthy citizen of Charlotte, donated the first eight acres of land for the school. In 1876, the charter was changed by the Legislature of the State of North Carolina, and the name became Biddle University. The institution operated under this name until 1923.

In 1883, a new university building was erected and served as the main administrative building for the university. Presently known as Biddle Memorial Hall, the building featured recitation rooms, a 600-seat audience chamber and an annex for the chapel.

From 1921 to 1922, the late Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh, Pa., gave funds to build a theological dormitory, science hall, teachers' cottage and a memorial gate. In addition, she provided a handsome endowment for the institution in memory of her late husband Johnson C. Smith. In recognition of these generous benefactions, the board of trustees voted to change the name of the institution to Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU). The charter of the school, accordingly, was amended on March 1, 1923, by the Legislature of the State of North Carolina. From 1923 until her death in October 1929, Smith gave funds for five more buildings, including a campus church.

From 1924 to 1925, the university was further strengthened by a substantial provision from James B. Duke, a wealthy businessman of Somerville, N.J. In the authorization of the establishment of the Duke Endowment on December 11, 1924, JCSU was included as one of the beneficiaries. Through the years, the Duke Endowment has been of inestimable value to the continued development of the university.

Also, in 1924, JCSU was recognized as a four-year college by the North Carolina State Board of Education. In 1929, the high school department was discontinued, and the standard program was restricted to a college of liberal arts and sciences and a theological department.

In 1932, the university's charter was amended, providing for the admission of women to the senior division. The 65-year-old institution for men then became partially coeducational.

In 1938, the institution attained the status of an independent college, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, reporting to the General Assembly through the Board of Christian Education. The first residence hall for women, named in memory of James B. Duke, was dedicated in 1940. In 1941, women were admitted to the freshman class. When the Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in 1942, the university was a fully coeducational institution.

JCSU joined the United Negro College Fund in 1944 as a founding member. This fund was organized primarily to help church-related schools of higher learning to revamp their training programs, expand their plants, promote faculty growth and create new areas of service. The institution's membership in the fund began to bear fruit immediately.

In November 1955, the Henry Lawrence McCrorey Theological Hall was dedicated and provided a new home for the 88-year-old seminary and its library. This new facility also provided space for a small chapel, classrooms and offices. In 1969, the theological department moved from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta, Ga., and became a part of the Interdenominational Theological Center. McCrorey Hall is now a classroom building for religious education, philosophy, sociology, social sciences, communication arts and other academic areas.

Through increasing support from The Duke Endowment, the United Negro College Fund and other sources, the period between 1955 and 1968 was one of expansion of the physical plant and enrichment of the curriculum. Seven new buildings were erected during this period: the Jack S. Brayboy Gymnasium (1960), the Hardy Liston Residence Hall for women (1962), the University Memorial Union (1965), the Duke Memorial Library (1967), Myers Residence Hall for men (1967), Sanders Residence Hall for women (1967) and the Rufus P. Perry Science Annex (1968).

The year 1967 was a memorable one in which JCSU reached its 100th anniversary. During this historical centennial occasion, the institution examined its past and made innovative and creative plans for the future.

Since 1968, JCSU has added several buildings including the Johnson/Seabrook Education Building and Mary Irwin Belk Early Childhood Education Center (1976), Greenfield Hall (1985), Carter Hall, the Lionel H. Newsom Humanities Building (1986), the Robert L. Albright Honors College Center (1990), the Faculty Center (1991), the Edward E. Crutchfield Jr. Center for Integrated Studies (1993), New Residence Hall (1994), the Technology Center (1997) and the Irwin Belk Complex (2003), which is a state-of-the-art academic and sports facility.

The expansion of the physical plant was a reflection of the growth that JCSU experienced over the years. Cultural and technological changes and increased competition led to a focus on enhancing the academic curriculum and special programs. The Teaching and Learning Center was established in 1988 to provide academic support services to JCSU students. In 1990, JCSU created the Honors College to recruit outstanding students who have the academic, social and service commitments to function as leaders and role models on campus, as well as in their communities. The Service Learning Center, established in 1994, is a model program in the Southern region and strives to instill strong values of service to the community and create a well-balanced education for JCSU graduates.

Renovations to the James B. Duke Library were completed in 1999 to bring a new look, new resources and technology to the facility. In 2001, after an aggressive campaign to raise more than $6.7 million, JCSU began renovations to the historic Biddle Hall. The administrative building received new computer systems, climate conditioning, modern lighting and electrical systems.

JCSU saw a burst of financial support from donors at the turn of the century. In 1996, JCSU received a $1 million gift from Irwin Belk, a prominent Charlotte businessman, which was the largest gift from a living individual in the school’s history. Between 1999 and 2002, JCSU received several million-dollar grants from funding agencies, including the Lilly Foundation, the Department of Interior, The Duke Endowment and a $2.57 million grant from the Kresge Foundation. In 2002, The Duke Endowment awarded JCSU $3.9 million, the largest grant in the school’s history at that time.

In the fall of 2000, JCSU launched the IBM Laptop Initiative, becoming one of few colleges in the country and the first historically black college to provide an IBM laptop computer to every student. Known as Thinkpad U, JCSU gives students and their computers complete access to the campuswide network and Internet services. Since 1994, the ratio of computers to students improved from 1:10 to 1:1.1. With this new initiative and the commitment to integrate technology throughout the curriculum, JCSU gained national recognition.

Because of the vision and commitment of past and present boards of trustees, presidents, administrators and staff, today JCSU is heralded as one of the best small colleges in the nation. The present site contains 100 acres of land and more than 40 buildings. The university serves approximately 1,500 students and has more than 240 full-time faculty members, administrators and staff members. As a liberal arts university, JCSU offers 28 fields of study. With Thinkpad U and other innovative programs, JCSU began to move into a new era of distinction.

In 2008, Dr. Ronald L. Carter became the 13th president of JCSU and steered the University on a path of growth  and outreach into the Northwest Corridor in an effort to move JCSU "beyond the gates."

In 2009, The Duke Endowment awarded JCSU $5.7 million, the largest single gift in the school’s history, to fund two new programs: the Center for Applied Leadership and Community Development and the Metropolitan College. That same year, the Mary Joyce Taylor Crisp Memorial Student Union was renovated and ground was broken on the JCSU Arts Factory, an innovative teaching and performance facility for students majoring in visual and performing arts.

2011 saw the University open the doors of the JCSU Arts Factory for students and the Charlotte community. The Duke Endowment also awarded a $35 million grant to Johnson C. Smith University to support science programs, scholarships and capital improvements on campus. It is one of the largest gifts ever given to a Historically Black College and University.

In line with Carter's vision for the University, JCSU began a number of construction projects in 2011 and 2012 that included: breaking ground on the renovation of the George E. Davis House (2011); the debut of public art piece "Passing Through Light" (2012); the opening of residential complex Mosaic Village (2012); and breaking ground on the new Science Center (2012).

2012 was a pivital year in terms of the University's growth and community involvement. In September, as Charlotte welcomed the Democratic National Convention to the city, JCSU collaborated with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to host "UFUTURE: A Summit for Innovative Young Thinkers."

Looking ahead, JCSU continues to operate on its "growing edge" to provide an environment where students can explore and grow – intellectually, physically, socially, culturally and spiritually – and where they can develop a sense of social and civic responsibility.

The information on this page is maintained by the Division of Institutional Advancement. For more information or questions please contact them directly at 704.378.5676.