James McCune Smith

The James McCune Smith Day Thread (February 17, 2021)

Whilst visiting the Glasgow Royal Infirmary recently – an interesting building itself which will be seen in the upcoming Batman film as Arkham Asylum – I noticed a plaque with the following quote:

“Freedom and Liberty are not synonyms. Freedom is an essence; Liberty, an accident. Freedom is born with a man; Liberty may be conferred upon him… Freedom is the gift of God; Liberty, the creature of society. Liberty may be taken away from a man; but on whatsoever soul Freedom may light, the course of that soul is henceforth onward and upward.”

James McCune Smith graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1837 and became the first African American to receive a medical degree. During his studies in Glasgow, Smith obtained three university degrees – a bachelor’s degree (1835), a master’s degree (1836) and his medical doctorate (1837).

Born a slave in 1813 in New York City, he and all of New York’s remaining slaves were liberated by the state’s Emancipation Act 1827. A fortunate beneficiary of the New York African Free-School, Smith was identified early in his life as being intellectually gifted.

But when he applied for entry to several American universities he was refused admission on account of his race. The University of Glasgow stepped in and offered him a place, which he took up in 1832. After graduation, Dr. McCune Smith sought additional clinical training in Paris before returning home to New York. He established his medical practice in Lower Manhattan in general surgery and medicine was the resident physician at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Manhattan for nearly 20 years.

As well as being a successful physician, he was a great abolitionist and educator as well as a brilliant scholar and writer who was one of the foremost intellectuals in 19th century America of any race.

A new building named after him was opened on the university campus just last month, the James McCune Smith Learning Hub:

The James McCune Smith

Further biographical information can be found here:

Glasgow University Website

The American Physiological Society

Have an awesome day, everyone!