Unity through Diversity

Mixis Living Trailblazers

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JAMES MCCUNE SMITH, was born in 1813 in New York City to a black mother(Lavinia Smith), a "self-emancipated woman"; and Samuel Smith, his mother's master and a white merchant who had brought her with him to New York from South Carolina. Smith attended the African Free School, where he was described as an "exceptionally bright student", and went on to what was considered ‘‘a brilliant career”. Upon graduation, Smith applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but was denied admission due to racial discrimination. He was encouraged to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland where he studied and graduated at the top of his class. He obtained a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a medical degree and completed an internship in Paris.

Returning to the US, he became an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist and author. He is the first African American to hold a medical degree, and the first African American to run a pharmacy in the United States. Smith was a public intellectual: he contributed articles to medical journals, participated in learned societies, and wrote numerous essays and articles drawing from his medical and statistical training. He used this training in medicine and statistics to refute common misconceptions about race, intelligence, medicine, and society in general. He helped start the National Council of Colored People.