The History of
Johnson C. Smith University
Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) has a rich history and is heralded as one of the best small colleges in the nation, serving more than 1,100 students and employing more than 240 full-time faculty members, administrators and staff.
Freedmen’s College of North Carolina, JCSU’s original name, was founded in 1867 by the Rev. S.C. Alexander and the Rev. W. L. Miller. JCSU holds in its archives a sword belonging to Capt. Biddle, who was a member of the staff of Gen. George McCall of the Union Army. In 1867, Colonel William R. Myers, an officer in the Confederacy, gave eight acres of farmland on Beatties Ford Road west of downtown to Biddle University. It was later named Biddle Memorial Institute and then Biddle University after Capt. Henry J. Biddle, the late husband of benefactor Mary D. Biddle. In 1923, the institution was renamed Johnson C. Smith University to honor the generous donation of Jane Berry Smith in memory of her late husband.
In 1924, the University was recognized as a four-year college by the North Carolina State Board of Education, and that same year, was named one of the first beneficiaries of The Duke Endowment established by James B. Duke. JCSU began admitting women in 1932 (becoming fully coeducational in 1941), and in 1938 attained the status of an independent college, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, reporting to the General Assembly through the Board of Christian Education.
The University was a founding member of the United Negro College Fund in 1944, and through its membership and additional support from The Duke Endowment, the University entered an intense building phase from 1955 to 1968. Notable additions from that time include the Jack S. Brayboy Gymnasium, the Duke Memorial Library and the University Memorial Union.
As JCSU’s physical campus continued to expand thanks to the generosity of various benefactors, the University invested in academic culture enhancements, establishing the Learning Center, the Honors College and the Service Learning Center between 1988 and 1994.
In the fall of 2000, JCSU gained national recognition by launching the IBM Laptop Initiative, becoming one of few colleges in the country and the first historically Black university to provide an IBM laptop computer to every student. In 2009, The Duke Endowment awarded JCSU $5.7 million to fund the Center for Applied Leadership and Community Development and the Metropolitan College, and in 2011, issued a $35 million grant to support science programs, scholarships and capital improvements on campus.
Over the past decade, JCSU has completed a number of new construction projects and renovations, including a mixed-use development known as Mosaic Village, the JCSU Arts Factory and the New Science Center.
In 2012 in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, JCSU collaborated with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to host "UFUTURE: A Summit for Innovative Young Thinkers." The event attracted high-profile politicians and celebrities to JCSU and amplified the voices of more than 300 students from 20 regional colleges and universities.
Following national events that amplified racial inequity across the nation in summer 2020, Charlotte became a model for change when corporations and philanthropic leaders came together to pledge $250 million to the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, a vision of Mayor Vi Lyles.
The initiative was announced Nov. 1, 2021, on JCSU’s campus with $80 million being earmarked for the University.
Looking ahead, JCSU will continue to fulfill its promise to produce graduates who can communicate effectively, think critically, learn independently and collaboratively and demonstrate excellence in their chosen career fields under the leadership of its 14th president, Clarence D. Armbrister, J.D.