African-American Heritage Tour
Charlotte-Mecklenburg has a rich and
fascinating African American history. The Tour begins at the African
American Cultural Center in Uptown Charlotte. Parking is available. The
Center is located at the corner of N. Myers St. and East Seventh St.
Take I-277 South, exit at the Fourth St. Exit, take a left and proceed to
McDowell St., take a right and continue to Seventh St. Take a left and the
Center is one block on your right. If you are staying Uptown, travel east
on Trade St., take a left on McDowell, and proceed as above.
Neo Classical Revival Church was designed by architect James M.
McMichael. The congregation raised $20,000 to erect the church, which
replaced an earlier wooden structure. The A.M.E. Zion Church had is origins
in New York City and was the denomination of the Great Emancipators --
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. The building now
houses the African American Cultural Center.
Turn right out of
the parking lot of the African American Cultural Center and continue west on
Seventh St. until you reach Brevard St. Turn left on Brevard St. and
continue south on Brevard St. until you cross Fourth St. Look for Grace A.
M. E. Zion Church on your left.
In 1886, some members of Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church withdrew over the
issue of abstinence from drinking alcohol. The leader of the band of
prohibitionists who founded Grace A.M.E. Zion Church was William W. Smith, a
contractor who designed the
Mecklenburg Investment Co. Building next door. Their motto, "God,
Religion and Temperance," appears in Latin on the cornerstone of the
present building. Grace A.M.E. Zion Church stood in the heart of what was
the Brooklyn neighborhood in the early twentieth century. Urban renewal
destroyed the surrounding neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s. Grace Church
is scheduled to move to north Mecklenburg in the next couple of years. The
fate of the building is uncertain.
In May, 1922, construction began on a building which was unique in
Charlotte. The MIC Building was the first structure planned and executed by
some of the African American leaders (C. R. Blake, Thad L. Tate, A. E.
Spears, and Dr. A. J. Williams) of the community to accommodate African
American businesses, professional offices, civic and fraternal
organizations. The designer of the building was William W. Smith
(1873-1924). Notice the fancy brickwork on the building. It is called
corbeling. Smith's tomb in Pinewood Cemetery has the same look.
Continue south on
Brevard St. for one block or until you reach Stonewall St. Turn left on
Stonewall St., which will eventually become Kenilworth Ave. Take Kenilworth
until you reach Baxter St. Turn left on Baxter St. until you reach Torrence
St. Turn left on Torrence St., and you will see the Morgan School on your
This school, designed by architect Louis H. Asbury, served the
Cherry community, an African American community established in 1891. In
the days before automobiles and
trolleys, African Americans tended to live in the outlying sections of
town. Many people do not realize that Cherry is twenty years older than
Myers Park. This building is a reminder of the days of legal racial
Continue north on
Torrence St. until you reach Luther St. Turn right on Luther St. and you
will see the Mt. Zion Lutheran Church on your left after about one block.
The land on which Cherry was developed was part of a thousand acre cotton
farm that John Springs Myers, a prominent white, had assembled since the
1870s along Providence Road outside the bustling cotton town of Charlotte.
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church was organized by William Philo Phifer ( ? -1911), a
leader in establishing black Lutheran churches in Charlotte and its
environs. Many of the residents of Cherry owned their own homes.
Luther St. until it ends at Queens Road. Turn left on Queens Road and
continue to East Fourth St. Turn right on Fourth St. which soon changes its
name to Randolph Road. Continue on Randolph Rd. until it intersects with
Sam Drenan Road. Turn left on Sam Drenan Rd. (directly across from the
entrance to the Mint Museum) and continue to Leroy St. Turn right on Leroy
St., and you will see the Billingsville School on your right.
In the mid-1920s, the Grier Heights neighborhood petitioned the Mecklenburg
County School Board for assistance in establishing a neighborhood school.
The school board advised the neighborhood to wait until the land for a
school site could be acquired. Subsequently, local residents purchased two
acres from local landowner and businessman, Sam Billings (1848-1933), who
was also the first African-American to own land in the neighborhood.
Billings donated an additional acre of land, and the school was named in his
honor for his contribution. Money for the school was also donated by the
Julius Rosenwald Fund.
Turn around and
return to Randolph Road. Turn right on Randolph Road which will change its
name to East Fourth St. Continue on East Fourth Street and take I-277
North. Continue straight, pass I-77, and exit at Beatties Ford Road. Turn
left on Beatties Ford Road, and you will see the Excelsior Club on your
immediate left. Turn into the parking lot.
The Excelsior Club, located on Beatties Ford Road about one-half mile north
of the main entrance to Johnson C. Smith University, was for many years the
leading private African American social club in the Southeast, and one of
the largest of its kind on the East Coast. In addition to its importance as
the only social club for African American professionals in the area, it also
became a political focal point of the city and county for both black and
white candidates for office, and a meeting place for boosters of Johnson C.
Turn around and
travel south on Beatties Ford Road until it intersects with French St. Turn
right on French St. and continue for one block to Campus St. Turn left on
Campus St., and you will see Mt. Carmel Baptist Church just over one block
on your left.
The Mount Carmel Baptist Church is part of
Biddleville, the village that grew up next to the present Johnson C.
Smith University, and was named after the schools former title, Biddle
Memorial Institute (1867-1876), later Biddle University (1876-1923). The
architect of the church was Louis H. Asbury, who also designed the
Morgan School in
Cherry. The church moved to a new location in 1983.
Continue south on
Campus St. The last house on your right is the Dr. George E. Davis House.
Please note its sad state of repair. Johnson C. Smith University is seeking
funds to restore the house.
Dr. Davis was an important figure in three respects: he was the first black
professor at Johnson C. Smith University, and, as Dean of the Faculty, a
major shaper of education at that institution; he built a number of houses
near his own as rental housing, thus molding the character of this part of
the neighborhood; and he was a North Carolina state agent for the
Rosenwald Fund, and in that capacity had a direct hand in raising more
than a half-million dollars for many of the black schools (including
Billingsville) built in the state which were partially financed through
Turn left on
Dixon Street and proceed one block to the entrance to Johnson C. Smith
University. Stop at the guard gate, identify yourself, and arrange to park
and walk around the campus.
Immediately after the Civil War, white Presbyterians from the North founded
Biddle Institute, named for Henry Biddle, a Union officer killed by the
Confederates. The purpose of the school was to prepare former African
American slaves for freedom. Initially, all the faculty members were
white. Among them was Dr. Stephen Mattoon (1815-1886), Biddle's president.
It was Mattoon who had the vision and who raised the money required to build
Biddle Hall -- some of it coming from white Charlotteans. It was the
largest building in Charlotte when it was completed in 1884. Johnson C.
Smith University is now restoring this magnificent structure to its original
Carter Hall was constructed in 1895. It is the oldest dormitory on the
campus. Situated on the northeastern corner of the University Quadrangle,
Carter Hall possesses an overall Gothic Revival flavor, especially
highlighted by circular pavilions at each corner. Also noteworthy is the
structure's wooden cupola. Much of the labor for this 15, 758 square foot
building was done by students under the supervision of the Industrial
Department of the University. The exterior of the building, except for a
modern protrusion on the eastern facade, is original. The University
changed its name in 1921 to Johnson C. Smith University in honor of a
Stop # 12. The
Carnegie Library on the Campus of Johnson C. Smith University (1912)
In 1907, Dr. Henry L. McCrorey was elected president of the university, and
he guided the institution's growth and change for forty years. He was a
graduate of the school's preparatory department and theological seminary
(1895) and had served as a professor in the college of arts and sciences and
the seminary. At the top of Dr. McCrorey's priority list for the university
was completion of the drive for a new library. This Neo Classical style
building was designed by the Charlotte architectural firm of Hunter and
Until now the tour has mostly covered
African American urban sites. But one must realize that the great majority
of African Americans in Mecklenburg County lived on farms until well into
the twentieth century, first as slaves and later as tenant farmers.
Mecklenburg County was one of the largest cotton-producing counties in the
Piedmont section. About 40% of the people living in Mecklenburg County in
1860 were African American slaves. The remainder of the tour will deal with
rural sites. It is important to note that some African Americans owned
their farms, like
Leave the Johnson
C. Smith Campus and turn right on Beatties Ford Road. Continue until you
reach the ramp leading to the Brookshire Freeway headed east. Take the ramp
and continue on Brookshire Freeway until you reach the North Tryon St.
exit. Take the exit. When you reach North Tryon St., turn left and
continue north until you reach the hilltop beyond the intersection with 36th
St. Rosedale is on your left. Enter the site and tour the house.
Rosedale (c. 1815)
This elegant plantation house was called "Frew's Folly" when it was built in
circa 1815, possibly because of its grand interior woodwork. Archibald Frew
was a tax collector, which may explain why he built so lavishly by
backcountry standards. The house had been associated with several of the
county's notable families: the Caldwells and the Davidsons. It was locally
noted for its fine gardens and a horse riding tournament that featured a
rather dangerous lance throwing competition. Slaves supplied much of the
labor for the plantation. Indeed, plantation agriculture would have been
impossible otherwise. For tour information for Historic Rosedale, call
Rosedale and take a left onto North Tryon St. Continue north on Tryon St.
until Old Concord Road bears off to the right, which is one long block past
Eastway Drive. Continue on Old Concord Road until you reach Torrence Grove
Church Road. Turn left and continue to the end of Torrence Grove Church
Road. The Newell Rosenwald School is to your immediate left.
This is another Rosenwald School. Remember the
Billingsville Rosenwald School earlier in the tour? Remember the
Dr. George E. Davis House? Twenty-six Rosenwald Schools once stood in
Mecklenburg County. This is one of the best-preserved. The schools were
built with matching funds provided by the Julius Rosenwald Foundation,
created by the Chicago entrepreneur who directed the booming growth of
Sears, Roebuck and Company. From 1917 to 1932 the building program of the
Rosenwald Fund helped construct over 5300 black school buildings across the
South, 813 of them in North Carolina. Rosenwald not only provided money and
architectural assistance to improve school facilities, but also promoted
white-black cooperation in the era of Jim Crow. To receive Rosenwald money,
the local black community and the local white community both had to
Return to Old
Concord Road and turn left. Continue until you reach the ramp for Harris
Blvd. west. Travel on Harris Blvd. until you reach I-85. Take I-85 north
and exit at Mallard Creek Church Road. Turn right on Mallard Creek Church
Road. As you head down the hill toward U.S. 29 you will see the entrance to
the Thornberry Apartments on your right. Turn in and park in the parking
lot. Walk past the gates and bear left at the first intersection. The W.
T. Alexander Slave Burial Ground is at the far end of the block. There is a
black metal fence surrounding it.
There are over 70 graves in this burial ground. Some African Americans
were buried here after the Civil War. The advertisement and bill of sale
illustrated below demonstrate that slaves were treated as "property." It is
troublesome and painful to reflect upon the institution of slavery.
Clearly, it was a tragic part of our past. Yet the slave owners
regarded it as a natural component of the social order. They simply could
not conceive how African Americans could exercise the prerogatives of
political and economic freedom. History is not the past. History is our
consideration of the past. That is why it is so important to preserve
places like this.
Return to Mallard
Creek Church Road and turn right. Turn right on U.S. 29 at the bottom of
the hill and continue to where Harris Boulevard crosses. Turn right on
Harris Boulevard and continue on Harris Boulevard for several miles until
it crosses I-77. Stay straight, and the road will change its name to Vance
Road. Continue on Vance Road until it intersects with Mt.
Holly-Huntersville Road. Turn left on Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road until it
intersects with Beatties Ford Rd. Turn right on Beatties Ford Road and
continue for a couple of miles to Hopewell Presbyterian Church on your
right. Turn in the parking lot and walk up to the church.
This was the richest part of Mecklenburg County before the Civil War,
because the best cotton-growing land was here. Hopewell Presbyterian Church
was the cultural centerpiece of the neighborhood. The leaders of the
community who worshipped here were all prominent cotton planters and slave
owners. There is a side entrance near the front of the right side. That's
where the slaves entered to go up to the slave gallery. White owners would
not allow slaves to worship in their own churches. Slave owners would serve
communion to their slaves to demonstrate humility before the Lord.
Sample Road runs
west off Beatties Ford immediately opposite from Hopewell Presbyterian
Church. Drive down Sample Road and continue to the end. Latta Place is in
Latta Plantation Park.
Stop # 17. Latta Place (1799)
Like Rosedale, Latta Place depended largely upon slave labor. James Latta
first came to the area as a peddler traveling between Philadelphia and
Charleston, and selling wares from his wagon to the farmers along the way.
For a farmer this would have been a valuable site, close to the rich bottom
lands of the Catawba River, yet out of immediate danger of floods. Latta's
success at business can be measured by the grandeur of the house, which,
incidentally, follows the design of a Philadelphia town house. Notice that
the entrance is on the narrow side of the house rather than at the center of
the long front. Yet the chimneys are located in their traditional
Mecklenburg position at each end of the house, competing with the entrance
for space. For information call (704) 875-2312
Return on Sample
Road to Beatties Ford Road and take a right. Continue on Beatties Ford Road
until it intersects with McCoy Road. Take a hard left on McCoy Ford Road
and continue for approximately .4 miles. You will see a field on your
right. Stop at the tree line on the far side of the field. Park you
vehicle carefully on the shoulder and walk up the edge of the tree line.
You will see a chain-linked fence ahead of you in the woods. That is the
location of the McCoy Slave Cemetery.
This served the same purpose as the W. T. Alexander Slave Burial Ground.
The cemetery contains a most interesting marker, probably erected in the
1920s. The family of the slave owner express their devotion to two slaves,
"Uncle Jim" and "Aunt Lizzie." Some visitors to the cemetery take offense
at the marker and resent it as a token of "paternalism." However, the truth
is that slavery was a very personal institution, and there were instances
when strong personal bonds developed between slave owners and their slaves.
Indeed, Lizzie was famous as a
Obviously, this tour could not cover all
African American Historical Sites.
Click here for a full list.
End of Tour. To
return to Charlotte, continue on McCoy Road until it intersects with Gilead
Road. Turn right on Gilead Road and proceed to I-77. Turn right on I-77
and return to Charlotte.