Located west of Uptown Charlotte, Biddleville is the oldest surviving historic African American neighborhood in the city. Established in 1871, the Historic West End neighborhood grew up around a Freedman’s Bureau school founded in 1867 to train Black preachers and teachers. Originally known as the Biddle Memorial Institute, the school became Johnson C. Smith University in 1923. With the university anchoring the neighborhood, Biddleville grew to become a significantly sized urban African American neighborhood in the city during the 20th century.
During the mid-20th century, Biddleville increased in size as other historic Black communities in Uptown Charlotte, such as Brooklyn, were razed in favor of urban renewal. Although Biddleville was not completely eliminated during this era, the redlined neighborhood was negatively impacted by the construction of Interstate 77 and the Brookshire Freeway during the 1960s and 1970s.
With Charlotte being a major Sunbelt boomtown, Biddleville is in the midst of gentrification, a process where wealthier people move into a community and typically displace current inhabitants as a result.
In 2000, 96% of Biddleville’s population was African American. In 2016, the white population had increased to 25%. This transformation was captured in a 2016 Charlotte Observer article titled “White people in Biddleville: The story of a changing neighborhood.”
Wayne McLurkin remembers the moment, maybe seven years ago, that he realized white people were moving into Biddleville. He was installing a storm door, looked over his shoulder and saw a white woman running down the street. For an instant, he wondered: Who’s chasing that woman? Turns out she was jogging.
In the same article, Biddleville residents desired revitalization but not the displacement witnessed in similar historic African American neighborhoods in Uptown Charlotte.
In Biddleville, neighbors want a different narrative - history remembered, diversity preserved and an assurance that longtime homeowners aren’t squeezed out by soaring property taxes.
Today, Biddleville is home to a new modern streetcar line, mcmansions that have replaced historic residential building stock and $400,000 townhouse developments that don’t appear to respect the neighborhood’s historic sense of place, character or scale. Growth can be good but we believe it is best when it doesn’t displace the historic cultural landscape. That comes through the process of Withintrification, where the neighborhood has a seat at the decision making table for its future, as opposed to politicians and developers leading that effort. Here are a few photographs that capture the old and new, illustrating the neighborhood’s current transformation. These are intended to help us visually see why local public policy is needed to protect historic communities like Mixontown, Historic Eastside, Durkeeville from displacement and being erased as Jacksonville’s urban core continues to revitalize.