Historical Heavyweights: A visionary on Charlotte’s west side
Plus: New Charlotte-themed crossword; Top news of the week: New loan forgiveness plan — City Council passes UDO — Truist closing suburban office buildings — Belk sues its former CEO
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Henry L. McCrorey: He built an influential westside neighborhood and solidified Charlotte’s historically black college
Editor’s note: You see their names on street signs or parks, but who were some of the big-name people from decades ago who shaped Charlotte? They have fascinating stories, and for the next few Saturdays, we’re sharing them with you.
by John Short
Maybe you’ve heard of the McCrorey Heights neighborhood in Charlotte. It’s an important historical neighborhood on the west side near the Johnson C. Smith campus. Residents this month succeeded in their effort to have the community declared a historic district — a move they said would preserve the “neighborhood of firsts,” given the historical significance of the residents who made their homes there over the years. McCrorey Heights residents have included some of Charlotte’s most important African American civic leaders of the 20th century.
But who was McCrorey? And why is the neighborhood that bears his name so important to Charlotte? In short, Henry L. McCrorey was the president of Johnson C. Smith for the first half of the 20th century, and he presided over its growth from small religious college to accredited southeastern four-year academic institution.
(FYI, there’s no connection between McCrorey and another well-known Charlotte resident — former mayor and governor Pat McCrory, whose last name is spelled slightly differently.)
The lasting legacy of McCrorey — the one who spelled his name ending in “-ey” — might be the fact that he executed his vision for his slice of Charlotte better than any Charlottean in history.
Born in South Carolina in 1863, McCrorey would go on to graduate from the Biddle Institute as valedictorian in 1892. After a brief stint studying in Chicago, he returned to Charlotte to teach at Biddle and rose through the ranks to become the institution’s president in 1907. During his tenure, McCrorey oversaw the growth of the small Presbyterian college of Biddle University into Charlotte’s most notable HBCU, Johnson C. Smith, and grew the school’s endowment from $40,000 to $1.6 million.
McCrorey was adept at moving the institution forward, and had a knack for securing the resources required to make it happen. He oversaw a number of firsts for the school — most notably the renaming of Biddle Institute (named for Union Maj. Henry Biddle) to Johnson C. Smith. The name change came about after a generous donation from Jane Berry Smith, of Pittsburgh, who provided an endowment in memory of her late husband, Johnson C. Smith.
A few years later, in 1924, McCrorey also secured a portion of the Duke Endowment from tobacco and electricity baron James B. Duke, and the university was recognized as a four-year college by the N.C. State Board of Education. Four years after that, in 1928, Smith became the first historically black institution in the state to construct a gymnasium. In 1932, Smith amended its charter to allow for the admission of women.
Beyond his vision for the growth of Smith, McCrorey’s largest contribution may have been his founding of the neighborhood that still bears his name. The neighborhood in northwest Charlotte of roughly 200 brick ranch homes became a crucible for the leadership of Charlotte’s African American community in the middle of the 20th century.
McCrorey bought the land and established the neighborhood in 1912 as a place for black professionals, where the educated African American elite could own homes and raise families free of social stigma or legal restrictions.
The neighborhood grew in the 1960s, as many residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Second Ward in uptown were forced to move to neighborhoods on the west side of town, including McCrorey Heights, after the campaign of urban renewal pushed out Brooklyn residents. The community that grew in McCrorey Heights would have a lasting and important impact on Charlotte and the surrounding region. Its residents included leaders in education, religious institutions, politics and civil rights.
Harvey Gantt, the former Charlotte mayor who desegregated Clemson’s Architecture School, designed buildings in the neighborhood. Dorothy Counts’ parents lived there, as well as the parents of Charlotte’s first black female mayor, Vi Lyles. Infamously, one of the most incendiary racial incidents in Charlotte’s history occurred in the heart of McCrorey Heights on Nov. 22, 1965, when the homes of four civil rights leaders (Reginald Hawkins, Fred Alexander, Kelly Alexander and Julius Chambers) were bombed in an a coordinated attack. No one was hurt, and the case remains unsolved.
H.L. McCrorey’s name is attached to another significant Charlotte building, the McCrorey YMCA on Caldwell Street in uptown, which opened in 1951. The YMCA is now active on Beatties Ford Road after moving in 1969 as part of the forced eviction of Brooklyn residents, but the original structure is one of four remaining buildings from the original Brooklyn neighborhood and won historic designation from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission in 2021.
So the next time you bemoan the fate of the Epicentre or CityFair (ask a Charlotte unicorn…) think of H.L. McCrorey, whose vision for the west side of Charlotte still stands over 100 years later.
Last year’s Historical Heavyweights series:
“Edward Dilworth Latta: The guy who all the stuff is named after” (Oct. 16, 2021)
“Annie Alexander: The South’s first female doctor” (Oct. 23, 2021)
Today’s supporting sponsor are Topsail Wealth Management, which provides clients with a premier wealth management partnership. With a high-value and low-cost approach, clients minimize costs and keep more of their wealth.
… and Soni Brendle:
This week’s Charlotte-themed crossword: ‘Horn section’
Ledger crosswords are created by Chris King, edited by Tim Whitmire and presented by CXN Advisory. Enjoy this week’s edition:
.PDF (suitable for download and printing):
.PUZ (suitable for use on tablets and computers with Across Lite app):
For more than two dozen crosswords with local clues, check out our dedicated Charlotte Ledger Crossword page.
This week in Charlotte: Unified Development Ordinance passes; NoDa Brewing expands to Chapel Hill; Truist scales back suburban office space; Former Belk CEO sued
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
HBCUs big beneficiaries of loan forgiveness plan: (Ledger 🔒) Federal data shows that students of historically Black colleges are more likely to receive federal loans, meaning that graduates and students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte will benefit the most from President Biden’s controversial new plan to forgive student loan debt.
Teacher raises: (WCNC) Teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will receive an average raise of 4.2% this year, a higher figure than anticipated, and all CMS staff will make at least $15 an hour.
New student union: (Biz Journal) Central Piedmont Community College had a dedication ceremony for its new student union, called the Parr Center, earlier this week. The $113.4M facility is 184,000 s.f., making it the largest building on campus.
UDO approved: (Observer) The Charlotte City Council approved the Unified Development Ordinance on Monday with a 6-4 vote. The council also approved an outline for creating social districts.
NoDa Brewing expands: (Axios Charlotte) NoDa Brewing, a local beer company with two taprooms on North Tryon and North Davidson streets, is opening up its first location outside of Charlotte in Chapel Hill called NoDa Brewing Company Tapas.
Covid vaccinations in kids: (WFAE) Just 5% of North Carolina children under the age of 5 and 27% of kids ages 5-11 have received a Covid vaccine, according to state data.
Truist closing two office buildings: (Ledger 🔒) Truist is closing two large suburban office buildings in Charlotte, and a bank spokesperson said the company is bringing employees into the bank’s main uptown office to “create more opportunities for connection and collaboration.”
Former CEO sued: (Observer) Belk sued its former CEO Nir Patel along with another former executive and GameStop Corp. this week, saying they stole employees and payroll information.
Airbnb party houses: (Ledger) Neighbors are complaining about wild parties at short-term rental homes, including public urination and rap videos being shot in Elizabeth, and the city of Charlotte is taking no action to stop it.
Johnson & Wales at a crossroads: (Biz Journal 🔒) Johnson & Wales University’s uptown campus is facing strong challenges, with enrollment down 55% over the last decade, a vacant president position and what some say is a clash between the leaders in Charlotte and in the university’s Rhode Island headquarters.
Complicated launch of body scanners: (Observer, subscriber-only) Body scanners rolled out in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools high schools last spring to much fanfare from district officials, but a Charlotte Observer analysis of internal emails regarding the scanners shows it was a more complicated launch than was portrayed.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Charlotte’s fastest-growing businesses: Some 45 Charlotte-area companies — most that you’ve probably never heard of — have landed on the Inc 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses.
Digital art at the airport: In the latest installment of our “You Ask, We Answer” series, we get to the bottom of a reader’s question about why a giant digital art display in Concourse A of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been dark for awhile.
Kids mental health crisis: A senior medical director at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital discusses the current pediatric mental health crisis and tells parents how to spot trouble signs in your child.
Nondiscrimination ordinance update: Since Charlotte’s new nondiscrimination ordinance took effect on Oct.1, the city has received a total of 12 complaints — including two complaints involving new protected classes.
Friday’s Ledger (🔒)
Podcast on the future of office space: The hot topic in commercial real estate these days is how companies are handling having large offices and workforces that are often largely working from home. Listen to a conversation between the Ledger’s Tony Mecia and Brett Gray, managing principal of Cushman & Wakefield’s Charlotte office, as they discuss the issue.
With her brother in a Nicaraguan jail, a sister worries: Charlotte resident Mayra Tijerino is worried for her brother, a Catholic priest who is in a Nicaraguan prison known for torture.
Ways of Life (🔒)
A wise tennis star: Sam Woods Jr. had a lifelong love affair with the game of tennis, which he used to connect with people and impart knowledge that reached far beyond the court.
E-scooters in Matthews: The town of Matthews is two months into a one-year trial period with Bird e-scooters, and we look at whether scooters — typically found in larger, higher-density cities — make sense in a small town like Matthews.
2 new players sign on: Charlotte FC announced Thursday it had signed both forward Andre Shinyashiki and midfielder Brandt Bronico to three-year deals with an option for a fourth, which could keep both in the Queen City through 2026.
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project