In 1876, the charter was changed by the Legislature of the State of North Carolina and the name became Biddle University, under which name the institution operated until 1923.
From 1921 to 1922, Jane Berry Smith donated funds to build a theological dormitory, a science hall, a teachers' cottage and a memorial gate. She also provided an endowment for the institution in memory of her late husband, Johnson C. Smith. Up until her death she donated funds for five more buildings and a campus church. In recognition of these generous benefactions, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the institution to Johnson C. Smith University. The charter of the school, accordingly, was amended on March 1, 1923, by the Legislature of the State of North Carolina.
In 1932, the university's charter was amended, providing for the admission of women. The 65-year-old institution for men then became partially coeducational. The first residence hall for women, named in memory of James B. Duke, was dedicated in 1940. In 1941, women were admitted to the freshman class. In 1942, the university was a fully coeducational institution.
JCSU joined the United Negro College Fund in 1944 as a founding member. This fund was organized primarily to help church-related schools of higher learning to revamp their training programs, to expand their plants, to promote faculty growth, and to create new areas of service.
In Fall 2000, JCSU launched the IBM Laptop Initiative becoming one of few colleges in the country and the first historically black college to provide an IBM laptop computer to every student. Known as "ThinkPad U", JCSU gives students and their computers complete access to the campus-wide network and the Internet. Since 1994, the ratio of computers to students improved from 1:10 to 1:1.1. With this new initiative and the commitment to integrate technology throughout the curriculum, JCSU gained national recognition.
JCSU is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division II, and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). Its intercollegiate sports programs include basketball, bowling, cross-country, football, golf, softball, volleyball, tennis, and track and field. Its teams are nicknamed the Golden Bulls.
In 2001 the men's basketball team won the CIAA Basketball Tournament and advanced to the Division II Elite Eight. In 2006 the men’s and women’s basketball teams were the CIAA Western Division Champions and the Tournament Runner-ups. In 2007 the men's basketball team were the 2007 CIAA Western Division Champions. In 2008 the men's basketball team won the 2008 CIAA Men's Basketball Championship.
JCSU's on-campus stadium is called the Irwin Belk Complex.