When most people discuss heroes in Black history, many remember names like Frederick Douglas, Mary McCleoud Bethune, Benjamin Banneker and Sojurner Truth. While all those names are great, many forget the ones who paved the way in the medical field, even during slavery times. Dr. James McCune Smith is one of those.
Dr. McCune was one of the most broadly accomplished black intellectuals and activists in America. Born in New York on April 18, 1813, to a mother who purchased her own freedom and a father who may have been a freed slave or a white merchant, Smith attended the African Free School in New York City.
In 1824, the retired Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette returned to America for a tour of the nation. While in New York he visited the African Free School and out of all the students, he chose James to write and deliver the welcoming address. Smith was only 11 years old.
Upon graduation from the African Free School, James McCune Smith sought but was denied admission to several American colleges. He then managed to raise money to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where, after completing bachelor’s and masters’ degrees, he completed a medical degree in 1837.