Student Sleuth Discovers the Middle Name of Black College Benefactor Johnson C. Smith

For decades, historians at Johnson C. Smith University, the historically black educational institution in Charlotte, North Carolina, did not know what the middle initial of its founder’s name stood for. Now a security guard and part-time student at the university, who is an experienced genealogist, has solved the mystery. By contacting a distant relative, the student determined that Smith’s middle name was Crayne.

The school was founded as the Biddle Institute in 1867 by the Presbyterian Church. A $1,900 contribution from the widow of Henry Biddle provided the start-up money. Biddle was a white man who died in 1862 fighting for the Union Army.

In the early 1920s the school received a $700,000 donation from the widow of Johnson C. Smith, who died in 1919. Smith was the owner of the Hiawatha Drug Store in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He made a fortune as a designer and builder of street railway, or trolley, systems. He was also a co-founder of the McKeesport Tin Plate Company and a director of a local bank.