Black History Month. James McCune Smith, physician, abolitionist, educator and intellectual

On the occasion of Black History Month, the University Library will be hosting a Black History Month exhibition, and the International Story will be blogging a few highlights of our historical students of the African diaspora.

One of the students mentioned in the exhibition, and perhaps one of our earliest black students, is James McCune Smith. Graduating from the University of Glasgow BA in 1835, MA in 1836, and MD in 1837, he became the first African American to receive a university medical degree.

Smith was born a slave in 1813 in New York City,  and, despite New York State’s Emancipation Act of 1827, he was denied admission to Universities in his own country. Helped financially by New York City’s black leaders and the Glasgow Emancipation Society, Smith successfully completed his studies in Scotland.

Armed with a University of Glasgow education which gave him a grounding in the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment, James McCune Smith returned to New York making a significant impact as a physician, an abolitionist, an educator and prominent intellectual. A Community School in Manhattan is named after him.

 

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