Black History Spotlight: James McCune Smith

Posted February 25, 2013
By Gwynne Watkins

As February is Black History Month, we will be taking time this month to spotlight several notable African Americans who deserve recognition for their contributions to society and history.

James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith (1813-1865)

James McCune Smith was the first African American to earn a medical degree, practice medicine in the United States, and begin a Black pharmacy.

Born in 1813 in New York City, Smith attended the African Free School and was tutored by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., an Episcopalian minister. When Smith was denied admittance to college due to racial discrimination, Rev. Williams helped him raise money to attend college in Scotland.

In 1837 Smith completed his medical degree, and after a short internship in Paris, he returned to New York City and began practicing medicine. He was the only doctor at the Free Negro Orphan Asylum for 20 years. Also, during this time, Smith was an active writer and spokesman for the abolitionists, working closely with Frederick Douglass to help create the National Council of Colored People.

Eventually, Smith was appointed professor at Wilberforce College, Ohio, the oldest African-American college in the U.S., but poor health prevented him from taking the position. He died only 19 days before the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases. — Psalm 103:2-3

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Image and text from Warner Press bulletin U7827 (UPC: 7-30817-34482-9). Art and design by Christian Elden. Portrait available for license. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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