Black History Month: Dr. James McCune Smith

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:16 AM CST
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Many African Americans have faced hardships, especially in the medical field. They were not allowed to attend certain schools due to the color of their skin, but still managed to make a way. That was the case for the very first African American to earn a medical degree.

Dr. James McCune Smith was born in 1813 in Manhattan, New York. He wore multiple hats during his lifetime; he was an abolitionist, author and physician. McCune Smith was born into slavery and set free on July 4, 1827, at the age of 14 by the Emancipation Act of New York, making that the final date that New York freed their remaining slaves.

After being freed, he pursued an education that was once before illegal for him. He attended the African Free School #2. Described as a bright student, he then applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York but was denied admission due to his race. This pushed him to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he completed his Bachelor’s in 1835, his Master’s in 1836, and finally his medical degree in 1837, making him the first African American to be awarded a Degree in Medicine.

After completing an internship in Paris, he returned to New York City to open up his own businesses, a medical office and pharmacy. Upon his arrival he was greeted as a hero by the Black community saying, “I have striven to obtain education, at every sacrifice and every hazard, and to apply such education to the good of our uncommon country.”

Dr. James Smith McCune died of a heart disease at the age of 52 on Nov. 17, 1865. His legacy continues to live on.