James McCune Smith was the first African American to hold a medical degree. Born in 1813, in New York City, Smith attended the city’s African Free School in New York. After being denied admission to several American colleges due to his race, he attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland for his undergraduate and medical degrees. Return from Glasgow in 1837, he opened the first African American owned pharmacy in New York . Smith also worked as a doctor for twenty years at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Manhattan, moving with his family to Brooklyn after the Asylum was burned in the New York Draft Riots of July of 1863. He was a founding member of the New York Statistics Society in 1852 and was elected as member of the American Geographical Society in 1854. He was also active in the anti-slavery movement asa member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, a member of a committee that resisted the Fugitive Slave Law in New York by aiding fugitive slaves, and a co-founder, with Frederick Douglass, of the National Council of Colored People in 1853. In his writing and speaking, he often drew on his scientific knowledge to explain why slavery was not justified. Many of his articles were published in The Liberator and The Emancipator. In 1863, he was made professor of anthropology at Wilberforce University. He died two years later in 1865.

James McCune Smith (1813-1865)