African-American history timeline: Charlotte


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Life and death in the early community

1891 The Cherry neighborhood is planned adjacent to Cherry Park.
Cherry Neighborhood an all black neighborhood was designed by the city for use by African American families. Cherry Park, patterned after Latta Park in the affluent Dilworth community, is the name for the greenway behind the Myers Tabernacle African Episcopal Church and is still known as “Cherry Park,” today. Open to the entire community the park is used for baseball, and other sporting events.

Creating & sustaining educational institutes

1867 Colored Church [school] of Charlotte opens.
Queens College, found in 1771, was the first college to open in Charlotte; however, it was a whites-only campus. In 1866 the Reverends Samuel Alexander and Willis Miller organized the Catawba Presbytery establishing a Committee on Missions for the Freedmen. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted to support the founding of an African American School and church. The first educational session of the Colored Presbyterian Church of Charlotte was held on May 1, 1867.


1896 AME former headquarters.
From 1896, until the late 20th century the A.M.E. [National] Church headquarters was this simple building (today the Mecklenburg Investment Co.) on Brevard Street in Uptown Charlotte.


1910s West Charlotte High School.
West Charlotte High School is the only historically black high school still in existence in Charlotte today. In 1955 it moved to its current site on Senior Dr., just off of Beatties Ford Road.


1938 North West School of the Arts founded.
North West School of the Arts was built in 1938 by the African American community to absorb the overload in the student population from West Charlotte High School, located at the time in the Second Ward. The school was not accredited, had no indoor toilets, no cafeteria and no gym. Generations of African Americans were educated here despite the shortcomings of the building.


1940s Carver College founded.
Carver College opened its doors in the Second Ward neighborhood to provide night classes for African American Students who were not allowed to take advantage of night classes at Central High under the administration of what would become the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Many of the students came from JCSU, which had reached it capacity due to the large number of students who wished to apply their GI Bills to their college educations at the close of World War II. Eventually Central High became Piedmont Community College and UNCC moved to the northern edge of the city. Carver College students who were unable to travel the twenty miles North to UNCC were eventually absorbed by the community college.

Spiritual life

1831 A white church with African American parishioners.
The Second Great Awakening and the revolt of itinerant preacher Nat Turner of Virginia influenced the decision by white slave owners to include African Americans in worship services. Hopewell Presbyterian Church, a white church established in 1762, constructed a servant’s entrance and balcony for blacks when the building was renovated in 1863. The original Hopewell Presbyterian Church was constructed here by the Synod of Philadelphia, PA. The current outer structure of the church was built or renovated in 1863.

1864 Clinton African American Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion founded.
The Clinton A.M.E. Zion church is the oldest black church built in Charlotte. Established in 1864, the motherhouse originated out of Philadelphia but has been headquartered out of Charlotte for decades. Eventually, this congregation split over the temperance debate, with part of the believers founding Grace A.M.E. Zion Church.


1867 First Baptist Church opens.
First Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist Church in Charlotte. Founded in 1867, the church’s original structure was built in Brooklyn.

1870s Little Rock A. M. E. Zion Church founded.
Built in 1870s, the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church is one of the oldest black churches in Charlotte. It was relocated to its present site on North McDowell Street in 1920, but sold its original building to the Afro-American Culture Center in 1980.

1896 Lutheran Church founded.
This is the only known Lutheran Church in the Cherry neighborhood. Constructed by its African American parishioners, the structure was once an important part of the Cherry community.

The Antebellum

1861-1865 African Americans participate in the American Civil War.
Thousands of African American soldiers fought for a Union victory during the American Civil War. However, a few hundred of North Carolin’s blacks are remembered by their families and by memorabilia and war records having fought on the side of the Confederacy. In general, enslaved Africans used the disruption caused by the conflict as a shield under which to quietly flee from bondage. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the south, and southern cities like Charlotte, during the war.


The Postbellum

1879-1913 The industrial South rises.
Charlotte is home of the first continental gold rush in the 1800s. Railroad companies and lines were laid connecting Charlotte to other major cities. Textile plants grew up across North Carolina, and Charlotte became a major manufacturing center for cloth, and the textile industry became a leading industry for the area.

Civil Rights

1946-1959 Desegregation movement begins in Charlotte.
The large number of African Americans in Charlotte and their employment in the textile industry makes segregation on trains complicated for whites to sustain. Combined with African American protests, the impracticality of segregation in an industrial city led to the desegregation of buses and trains by 1959.

September 4, 1957 The desegregation of four Charlotte high schools.
Dorothy Counts, Delois Huntley, and Gus and Girvaud Roberts desegregate the four public high schools in Charlotte on this day.

1957 The desegregation of “old” Harding High School.
Harding High School was the first high school to be desegregated in Charlotte. Dorothy Counts was one of four teenagers to attempt to attend segregated high schools in Charlotte on the same day in 1957. Other students attempted to enter Central High down town. Civil Rights strategists worked with families like the Counts and other children to make the attempt at integration on the same day. One group later became known as the “Little Rock Nine” as they attempted integration into Central High School in Little Rock, AR.

February 9, 1960 Student protest movement reaches Charlotte.
Johnson C. Smith students follow the lead of North Carolina A & T students by sitting-in at segregated lunch counters. The JCSU students demonstrated inside of the downtown Kress store, leading to the desegregation of lunch counters in Charlotte.

1960-1979 The Civil Rights movement and peace movement grow in Charlotte.
The city leaders respond in part by creating a Mayor’s Friendly Relationship Committee to improve race relations.

January 19, 1965 The Swann school desegregation case filed.
The parents of James Swann of Charlotte file suit against Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools for refusing to allow their son to attend a neighborhood white school, assigning James to school on a segregated basis instead. The case gained national attention helping to end the practice of segregation in public schools.

1960s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church pastor’s leaders in Civil Rights.
Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is of historical importance for its role as an organizational base in the Civil Rights Movement. Ella Baker held community meetings at the church, and its activist leaders succeeded in helping Charlotte residents protest segregated conditions throughout the city. Now located near the intersection of I-85 and Beatties Ford Road, the original site of the church was in Brooklyn.

1968 The homes of Fred and Kelly Alexander bombed.
The Alexander Brothers, Fred and Kelly, both survived bombing of their homes on the same day in the late 1960s. Fred Alexander had been the first African American in the city to sit on the city council, and Kelly revived the NAACP in 1940. In 1948, Kelly was named State Chapter President. Under his leadership, North Carolina brought more civil rights law suits than any other state chapter.

1968 Reginald Hawkin’s house bombed.
Reginald Hawkin’s house at 1801 Fairfield Street was fire-bombed in 1968 on the same day as those of the Alexander brothers. Hawkins was a JCSU student and a leader in the effort to desegregate Charlotte’s public schools.

1960s Charles Jones, activist.
While a student at JCSU, Charles Jones organized and led many of the sit-ins in Charlotte during the 1960s. He became the president (local) of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Jones still occupies his home at West Trade and Solomon streets.

1960s Sit-ins organized at Seventh Street Presbyterian Church.
Located at North College and 7th streets, Seventh Street Presbyterian Church was originally known as First United Presbyterian Church. Its congregation was predominately white, but because of the Presbyterian philanthropy at Johnson C. Smith University, JCSU students attended this church, which is notable for its role in the protest movement of the 1960s.

January 7, 1969 Segregation ended in burials.
Pinewood and Elmwood Cemeteries remove the fence, which enforced segregation and the cemeteries begin to function on an integrated basis.

Early Entrepreneurship

Early 1900s McCrorey Heights neighborhood.
McCrorey Heights was named after Dr. Henry L. McCrorey, JCSU’s second African American President. McCrorey Heights once provided housing for the majority of JCSU faculty. When Interstate I-277 was built, the homes closest to the campus were destroyed. These homes, unfortunately, were also the neighborhoods oldest and most historically important houses.

1928 The Grand Theatre opens.
Located at 333 Beatties Ford Road, the Grand Theatre was opened by Samuel M. Pharr to provide a venue for entertainment for Biddleville residents. During the Great Depression, the theatre closed, and Johnston’s Café operated in the building. In 1937, the Theatre reopened and served its African American clientele until other Charlotte theatres were desegregated in the 1960s.

1944 The Excelsior Club opens.
Built in 1944, the Excelsior Club served as a social club and night spot and still does today. In the 1960s the club also served as a venue for civil rights movement strategy sessions.

1970s McDonalds Cafeteria opens.
McDonalds Cafeteria was one of the only black owned hotels in Charlotte during the 1970s. The hotel had also previously belonged to African American owners from the Alexander family. During its day, the Alexander Hotel was highly valued by African American travelers, including W.E.B. Dubois, who stayed at the hotel. The Alexanders, who also owned a funeral parlor, sold their hotel to the McDonalds, who later sold it to the House of Prayer.

--Information from the JCSU Library. For a complete timeline, click here.