James McCune Smith. Collection New-York Historical Society. Gift of A.D.F. Randolph.
James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith was born in 1813, the son of a "self-emancipated" woman and a white merchant. A star pupil at the African Free School, he was rejected because of his color from medical study by Columbia College and Geneva Medical College. The Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., helped Smith to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland. In five years, he graduated first in his class for the B.A., first for the M.A., and first for the M.D.

From 1837, when he returned to New York, until his death in 1865, Smith was the acknowledged intellectual leader of the city's African American community. The first black doctor in New York and the first black political candidate, Smith was also a medical researcher, educator, sociologist, and political strategist. Finally, he wrote brilliantly for the cause of black Americans.

James McCune Smith died of a heart condition on November 17, 1865, aged 52, three weeks before the official ratification of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery in the United States.

To see a video of actor Danny Glover portraying James McCune Smith, click here.