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'Hold high the gold and blue': Johnson C. Smith, Charlotte's gem HBCU

JCSU played a key role in Charlotte's push for equal rights when it hosted Dr. Martin Luther King on Sept. 21, 1966 at the school's gymnasium.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Throughout February, WCNC Charlotte is honoring Black History Month by celebrating historical people and places in the Carolinas, and what better place than Johnson C. Smith University? 

It's the historically Black college that sits at 100 Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte's Biddleville neighborhood. 

"For any student who is contemplating where do I go to school, I would encourage you to look at a HBCU, more specifically, JCSU," said Davida Hayood, vice president of student affairs at JCSU. "An HBCU is family, it's academic excellence, it's a little bit of tough love."

RELATED: H.L. McCrorey's lasting impact in Charlotte: Black History Month

Johnson C. Smith, a four-year liberal arts institution, was founded in 1867 in the old Charlotte Presbyterian Church by Rev. S.C. Alexander and Rev. W.L. Miller to educate freed slaves. The school's charter was formally inaugurated on April 7, 1867. Alexander and Miller were elected as teachers at the "Freedmen's College of North Carolina." Through 1876, it was referred to as Biddle Memorial Institute. 

That's until it was changed to Biddle University, after Col. W.R. Meyers donated the school's first eight acres of land. The first Black football game was played at Biddle University against Livingstone College in 1892. 

Years later, in 1919, it became the first Black college in the South to offer professional courses in education. Five years later, the school was recognized as a four-year college by the North Carolina Board of Education. 

Decades later, JCSU played a key role in Charlotte's fight for equality, hosting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in September of 1966.

"Our mission is to power, engage and transform students," Haywood said. 

It's the same call to action that drives the university 150 years later. Today, JCSU offers 23 degree-seeking programs for more than 1,300 students

"Hold high the gold and blue," said Tymier Farrar, a senior at JCSU.

“Many of our graduates have gone out into law, education, theology, sciences the math field, I mean it’s a plethora of opportunities for our students," Haywood said.

RELATED: Black History Month events in the Carolinas this year

Johnson C. Smith offers plenty of extracurricular opportunities as well, with 15 NCAA Division II teams on campus. 

"It's about football but it's really about the band and halftime," Haywood said. 

Johnson C. Smith boasts 60 student programs, including nine total fraternities and sororities, including Farrar, who is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. 

"Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated, the only right," Haywood said. 

It's the HBCU in the Queen City that graduates first-generation students who go on to become leaders in the Charlotte community and across the nation. 

"This is a true gem in the crown of North Carolina," Haywood said. "So often we hear the argument of whether or not HBCUs are still relevant and I would be the first to raise my hand and say 'absolutely,' and even more so now."