James McCune Smith was a pioneer in the medical field, becoming the first African-American to receive a doctorate in medicine from a university. Born in 1813 to a poor fugitive slave from South Carolina who had escaped to New York City, he went on to attend the University of Glasgow during the 1830s. Despite being denied admission to American universities due to his skin color, Smith was able to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor with financial support from abolitionists. Smith achieved many groundbreaking accomplishments in his life. He was the first African-American to obtain a medical degree, educated at the University of Glasgow in the 1830s.
He was also the first black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States and the first black doctor published in the U. S. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black doctors, since the American Medical Association did not allow African-American membership. Smith's achievements have had a lasting impact on medicine and social justice. His success inspired other African Americans to pursue medical degrees, despite facing financial constraints, lack of role models, insufficient exposure to medicine as a profession, little encouragement at home and in schools, and social pressure from peers to engage in other occupations.
In 1970, he helped organize the Flying Black Medics, a group of practitioners who flew from Chicago to Cairo to bring health care and health education to members of the remote community. Smith's legacy is also seen in other pioneering African-American doctors such as Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who became the first black woman to earn an M. D. degree in 1864; Dr. James E.
Wright, who earned a medical degree from Harvard University School of Medicine in 1915; and Dr. Patricia Bath, who became the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency. Smith's work also challenged medical racism through his writings. With his title mocking phrenology's attempts to diminish the value of African Americans, Smith painted worthy portraits of ordinary black people as examples of unique personalities inherent in every human being. The leaders of the African Free School envisioned that children would educate themselves, gain freedom and repatriate to Africa. Smith's success is an example of how this vision can be achieved. Today, Smith's legacy continues to inspire future generations of black medical professionals.
His pioneering achievements demonstrate that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.