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, James McCune Smith was not just any doctor. He was the first African-American to obtain a medical degree, educated at the University of Glasgow in the 1830s, when no American university would admit it. For this pioneering achievement alone, Smith deserves greater appreciation.
James McCune Smith (1813-1886) —the first black American to obtain a medical degree, prominent abolitionist and suffragist, compassionate physician, prolific writer and public intellectual—has been relatively neglected by medical historians. In New York, Smith established his medical practice at 55 West Broadway, where he also opened the first black-owned pharmacy in the United States. Its goal was to prepare free and enslaved blacks “so that they can become good and useful Citizens of the State, once the state grants full emancipation. In 1840 Smith wrote the first case report of a black American doctor, entitled Case of Ptyalism With Fatal Termination, which described a woman who developed excessive salivation, glossitis and gingivitis after taking a prescription for mercury, and who died as a result.
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. He and many black families fled Manhattan after the recruitment riots of 1863, where Irish people who were largely opposed to the working class assaulted and killed black New Yorkers and attacked charitable institutions associated with African Americans and the war. He was also the first African-American author published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, and opened the first black-owned pharmacy in the United States, serving black and white customers. In 1837 he established a doctor's office at 55 West Broadway, where he also opened the first black-owned pharmacy in the United States.
Despite their pioneering work in social justice for blacks, Smith's descendants saw themselves as white. In 1860, carrying letters of recommendation from her medical employers, Crumpler was accepted to the elite West Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts, where she was a special student of mathematics. Smith challenged the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required citizens of free States to assist in the recapture of people fleeing servitude, while meeting with other black activists in the back room of his pharmacy to organize the protection of fugitives. Smith was born a slave on April 18, 1813 in New York City to Lavinia Smith, an enslaved black woman from South Carolina, and Samuel Smith, a white merchant slave owner.
Smith was extensively involved in anti-slavery and suffrage movements, contributing to and editing abolitionist newspapers and serving as an officer for many organizations to improve social conditions in the black community. And he refuted, point by point, the claims of black inferiority made in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. But according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5% of doctors in the country are black.