CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s one of the oldest HBCU’s in North Carolina, and it sits next to the oldest Black neighborhood in Charlotte.
Historian Michael Webb says Biddleville was established just west of Uptown Charlotte right after the Civil War.
What You Need To Know
- Historian Michael Webb says Biddleville is the oldest Black neighborhood in Charlotte
- The neighborhood grew around Johnson C. Smith University
- A virtual walking tour allows you to learn about the history in this area
It’s a neighborhood that grew around what’s now called Johnson C. Smith University, a historically Black university that opened in 1867 to educate formerly enslaved men after the war, according to Webb.
He says the University’s first president, Rev. Stephen Matton, bought the land next to the school so families could build homes.
That’s what became Biddleville.
"It was an oasis of Black elite, middle class and you had your lower class who all co-mingled as one in this neighborhood,” Webb said. “Many professors lived here and many children would attend Johnson C. Smith University and go on to become professors, lawyers, doctors and teachers.”
Webb shares a deep connection to the area.
His grandparents moved to Biddleville when they relocated from South Carolina.
They lived in a house on Mill Road from 1934 to 1941, where Webb’s father was also born.
“During those years, many African Americans were not afforded opportunities to go to hospitals and have their children there,” he said. "Many had to have their children in their own house.”
Webb graduated from JCSU with a degree in history.
“Personally, for me, it’s keeping that legacy alive because my father and his siblings attended Johnson C. Smith, and some of them also worked at Johnson C. Smith University as well,” he said.
Webb is working on a history project to document the stories here along with Brandon Lunsford, the interim director of library services and archives at JCSU.
He says as Charlotte continues to rapidly change, it’s important for people to not lose this history and the contributions Biddleville residents made to the city.
“Because of gentrification, the demographics have changed,” said Webb. "A wide range and variety of ethnic groups live here now and so with that, with progress and evolving with this neighborhood, that’s why it’s so vital and important for the legacy and history of this neighborhood to keep going on.”
One way to learn about that history is through a walking tour designed by another historian, Dr. Thomas Hanchett.
He created the tour as a part of his website HistorySouth.org.
Along the 1.5 mile route, you’ll come across several different landmarks, including the homes local civil rights activists, like Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, who helped integrate Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Part of the tour normally goes through the university's campus, but because of COVID-19, Ely Portillo at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute created a video version.