James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 – November 17, 1865) was an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist, and author. He is the first African-American to earn a medical degree, and the first to run a pharmacy in the United States. Smith wrote forcefully in refutation of the common misconceptions about race, intelligence, medicine, and society in general. His friends and colleagues in this movement were often famous and consisted of many noted abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass.
Read James McCune Smith's essay on chess, free from thechessdrum.net. Smith was born to a self-emancipated mother and father in New York City, New York. He attended the African Free School, where he is described as an "exceptionally bright student". In the course of his studies, he was tutored by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., an Episcopalian minister at St. Phillip's Church in New York City, and who was also a graduate of the African Free School. Upon graduation, Smith applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but he was denied admission by each of them due to racial discrimination.
Williams suggested that Smith attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Williams helped Smith raise money for his trip to Scotland and his subsequent education there. Smith was accepted to the university, where he later graduated at the top of his class. He obtained a bachelor's degree in 1835, a master's degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837. He then traveled from Glasgow to Paris to complete a brief internship.
Upon his return to New York City in 1837, Smith became the United States' first professionally trained African-American physician. His practice spanned 25 years. In 1846, he was appointed the only doctor of the Free Negro Orphan Asylum, where he worked for more than twenty years. He opened what has been called the first black pharmacy in the United States, which was located on West Broadway.
While in Scotland, Smith was a member of the Glasgow Emancipation Society. When he returned to New York, he became a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1850, he was one of the key organizers of New York's resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act as a member of the Committee of Thirteen. During the mid 1850s, he helped Frederick Douglass to establish the National Council of Colored People.
Essays and writings
Smith was a prolific writer and essayist. Among other works, he wrote the introduction to Fredrick Douglass' second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), which constituted an important move away from seeking approval and authentication from white abolitionists in African-American accounts of slavery. In this introduction, he writes:
"...the worst of our institutions, in its worst aspect, cannot keep down energy, truthfulness, and earnest struggle for the right."
Smith also wrote from the view of a trained doctor. The physician and abolitionist wrote an essay that refuted the theories of race in Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia".He also wrote essays that rejected phrenology and homeopathy.
At Glasgow, Smith was trained in the then-new science of statistics. He used this training to refute the arguments of slave owners, who claimed that blacks were inferior and that slaves were better off than free blacks. He wrote an essay critiquing the U.S. Census of 1840 on racial and statistical grounds.
Personal life & Death
Smith was appointed professor of anthropology at Wilberforce College, Ohio, the oldest African-American college in the United States, but Smith was too ill to take the position. Smith died November 17, 1865 of congestive heart failure in Long Island, New York two years later at the age of 52, just nineteen days before the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery throughout the country. Smith was survived by his widow, Malvina, and five children.
After Smith's death, his descendants passed for white, and later generations didn't know he was their ancestor until Greta Blau, Smith's great-great-great-granddaughter, took a course on the history of blacks in New York and realized he was her ancestor. Smith would lie buried in an unmarked grave at Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn, New York for 145 years, until his descendants ceremoniously dedicated a tombstone in September, 2010.