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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

9 landmarks exploring Charlotte’s African-American heritage
Buildings and structures that tell the history of Black Charlotte
 
Published Thursday, February 13, 2014
by Michaela L. Duckett

clientuploads/v38n13photos/Little Rock AME_325.jpg
PHOTO/MICHAELA DUCKETT FOR THE CHARLOTTE POST
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church was formed in the early 1870s when Blacks in Charlotte were seeking to establish their identities after the Civil War. The old church building was the home of the Afro-American Cultural Center before the agency moved Uptown and changed its name to The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

Looking to explore an adventure in Black History this month? No need to go farther than your own backyard.

From historic churches to the first schools attended by African Americans, Charlotte has a number of buildings and landmarks that tell the story of the history of Black Charlotte. Here’s a list of nine places you can visit today:

1. Little Rock AME Zion Church

Located at 403 N. Myers Street, the original Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church is one of Charlotte’s oldest churches. The church was formed in the early 1870s as Blacks were struggling to find their identity after the Civil War with a Christian institution that was entirely devoid of white influence or power.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has its roots in New York. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglas are all said to be members of the denomination.

When visiting Little Rock, take notice of the two shotgun houses in the parking lot. The narrow style of house was most common in black neighborhoods during the first half of the 20th century. Only a handful of these houses remain in Charlotte. Most were destroyed during the city's Urban Renewal era of the 1960s and 1970s.

2. Mt. Zion Lutheran Church 

Located at 1605 Luther Street, Mt. Zion has long been a landmark of the Cherry neighborhood – a housing development planned by wealthy, white landowners John and Mary Myers to provide low-cost housing for black laborers and craft workers in the 1890s and early 1900s. Cherry is one of few black neighborhoods that were not destroyed by Urban Renewal.

The modest Mt. Zion Lutheran Church was built about 1896 on land donated by the Myers family when Cherry was first established. William Philo Phifer, a leader in establishing black Lutheran churches in the Charlotte area, organized the church. The building serves as the oldest structure in the Cherry community that has continuously been used as a house of worship.

3. Grace A.M.E. Zion Church

Located at 219 South Brevard Street, Grace A.M.E. Zion Church was founded around 1886 after members of Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church withdrew over theological differences regarding the issue of abstinence from drinking alcohol.

The church stands as the only religious edifice that survived the destruction of what was once the largest black residential section in Charlotte, known as Brooklyn, during Urban Renewal. However, the future of the building remains uncertain.

4. Morgan School

Located at 501 S. Torrence Street in the heart of the Cherry neighborhood, Morgan School opened in 1925 as one of the first all-black schools in the city. It was one of many all-black schools that closed down in 1968 but was reopened in 1973 and continues to be in use today.

5. Johnson C. Smith University

Located at 100 Beatties Ford Road, the campus of Johnson C. Smith University tells a story. Everything from the university’s entry gates to its historic buildings are symbols of black heritage and reminders of the importance of education in the black community.

JCSU’s Biddle Memorial Hall was erected in 1884 and named after Henry Biddle, a Union soldier killed by the Confederate Army. The school’s purpose was to prepare former slaves for freedom.

Initially, the faculty was all white. That changed when George E. Davis became the institution’s first African-American professor. In addition to owning a home in the community, Davis also built and rented out other properties in the area. Today Davis’ home, which sits about a block away from the JCSU campus, is abandoned and in disrepair. The university has plans to renovate the Davis House for future use.

6. Newell Rosenwald School 

Located on Torrence Grove Church Road in Northeast Charlotte, the Newell Rosenwald School is one of 26 Rosenwald Schools that once existed in the Charlotte area.

These schools were built from 1917 to 1932 with matching funds provided by the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. Rosenwald was an entrepreneur from Chicago who directed the booming growth of Sears, Roebuck and Company. In an effort to promote black-white cooperation in the post Jim Crow era, Rosenwald required that in order for schools to participate in the program, the matched funds had to come from contributions made by members of the local white and black communities.

7. Mecklenburg Investment Co. Building

Located on South Brevard Street in Uptown, the Mecklenburg Investment Building was erected in May 1922 as the first structure planned and executed by some of city’s African-American leaders. It served to accommodate African-American businesses and professional offices along with civic and fraternal organizations.

William W. Smith designed the building. Notice the fancy brickwork called corbeling. The MIC Building remains in operation today. According to its signage it is home to a lawyer’s office and nightclub.

8. Excelsior Club

Located at 921 Beatties Ford Road, the Excelsior Nightclub held the title as the Southeast’s leading private African-American social club for many years. When it was established in 1944, it was one of the largest of its kind on the entire East Coast. Through the years it has remained more than a nightclub, serving as a political meeting place for candidates and boosters of Johnson C. Smith University.

9. Charlotte’s slave cemeteries

It was uncommon for slave burial sites to be marked with more than a rock, if anything at all. Which is why markers from the 1920s found at the McCoy Slave Cemetery, located on McCoy Road off Beatties Ford Road, are highly unusual. It is believed that the family of the slave owner used the markers to express devotion to two slaves, “Uncle Jim,” and “Aunt Lizzie.”

Across town in the center of Thornberry Apartments, located near the intersection of Mallard Creek Church Road and U.S. 29, lies the W.T. Alexander Slave Cemetery. This burial ground has over 70 graves.

 

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