Johnson C. Smith University
100 Beatties Ford Road
On November 15, 1911, a crowd of local dignitaries gathered on the
campus of what was then Biddle Institute, now Johnson C. Smith
University, to lay the cornerstone for the school’s Carnegie Library.
Prominent Charlotte attorney Heriot Clarkson was there. Daniel Augustus
Tompkins, a South Carolinian who had come to Charlotte in 1883 to launch
a program of industrial expansion, was there. Dr. Henry L. McCrorey,
president of Biddle Institute, was there. The architects of the
building, Leonard Hunter and Frank Gordon, were there.
Biddle Institute had opened in 1867 in a church at
Fourth and Davidson Streets in Uptown Charlotte and had moved to its
hilltop campus on Beatties Ford Rd. two years later. Originally named
for Henry J. Biddle, a Union officer in the Civil War whose widow had
given money to the school, Biddle Institute had begun awarding degrees
in 1876. "Probably no colored college institution in the South is better
known or has done a more valuable work than has Biddle with the
exception of the larger and richer institute of Dr. Booker T. Washington
at Tuskeegee, Ala.," insisted the Charlotte Observer.
The first African American president of Biddle
Institute was Rev. Daniel J. Sanders. About 1904, Sanders sent a letter
to steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided funds
to help establish libraries throughout the United States. Carnegie
agreed to give $12,500 if Biddle Institute could match that amount. The
challenge was met.
The Carnegie Library is an example of the Neo
Classical style so prevalent on academic campuses across the nation. The
interior of the structure has been changed to make the building suitable
for offices. But the exterior remains largely intact. A marble plaque
near the northwest corner of the Carnegie Library contains the phrase in
Latin: "Reading makes a full man."