5 African American pioneers in science and medicine you should know

Farida Dawkins January 23, 2018

5 African American pioneers in science and medicine you should know

Image of James McCune Smith…photo credit: New York Historical Society

Dr James McCune Smith – First Black university-trained medical doctor

Smith was born in 1813 as a free man but was required to serve as a slave until adulthood – due to a New York gradual abolition law.  He was a brilliant student which awarded him the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree in 1835, a master’s degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837.   He earned his medical degree at Glasgow University in Scotland. Upon returning from the UK, he opened a medical practice in lower Manhattan, New York and formulated a school.

Smith was also a prolific writer and famously known to be an abolitionist working side by side with renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  He was chosen as the only doctor to service the Colored Orphan Asylum – which before then was dependent strictly on volunteer services. Smith opened up the first pharmacy run by an African-American.

Upon all of the accolades and milestones he earned, Smith was never allowed to become a member of the American Medical Association or any other medical organizations due to racial prejudice.  Towards the end of his life, Smith was instituted as professor of anthropology at Wilberforce College – the initial African-American owned and operated collegial institution in the U.S.

Smith died from heart failure on November 17, 1865, and was survived by his wife and 5 of 11 children.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: May 31, 2018


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