James McCune Smith, MD, was a first-class man. In 1837, he became the first African American to receive a medical degree, although he had to enroll in the Medical School of the University of Glasgow due to racist admission practices in the United States. His pioneering achievement alone deserves greater appreciation. Born in 1813 to a poor fugitive slave from South Carolina who had escaped to New York City, Smith went on to attend the University of Glasgow during the 1830s.
When he returned to the United States, he became a prominent black doctor, a tireless abolitionist, activist and journalist. He established a doctor's office at 55 West Broadway, where he also opened the first black-owned pharmacy in the United States. In 1844, Smith became the first black doctor in the United States to publish a scientific article in the formal medical literature, a case series of 5 women whose menstruation stopped with the use of opioids. He co-founded the National Medical Association in 1895, a professional organization for black doctors since the American Medical Association did not allow African-American membership.
Smith's activism showed aspiring African-Americans that becoming a professional black doctor could be more than just treating patients. He conducted his own research and demonstrated that the original collection of figures in situ in northern nursing homes had been flawed and that, as a result, the data were incorrect and could not be used to accurately determine the health of black asylum patients. The school graduated a list of children who would occupy the highest ranks of black intellectual and public life. These facts show that within 15 years after becoming a Free State, part of New York's free black population had improved the mortality rate by 13.28%, a fact unparalleled in the history of any people.Although there weren't many African Americans in Glasgow, black writers had been operating in Britain since the 1770s.
Humanities and social science scholars have increasingly used these periodicals as primary sources to track the contributions of black individuals to their disciplines3, something that physicians and medical historians can also do.Nathan “Nearest Green” was the first known black master distiller and creator of the project behind Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey. For example, Flexner's 1910 report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recommended closing all but 2 historically black medical schools, despite recognizing that 2 universities could not train enough doctors to care for 9.8 million black people in the United States.It is estimated that after the riots, Manhattan's black population declined by 20 percent, many of them leaving for Brooklyn. But according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5% of doctors in the country are black.James McCune Smith was an extraordinary man who achieved something remarkable: he was the first African American to receive a doctorate in medicine from a university. His pioneering achievement alone deserves greater appreciation and recognition.