Dr. James McCune Smith was a great American who overcame tremendous obstacles to become a first in black history. He was born a slave in 1813. He received his freedom as a result of the Emancipation Act of the State of New York which freed all of the slaves in New York on July 4, 1827.
Smith said that as a slave he “lived in the gloom of midnight, seemingly hopeless, dark and seemingly rayless.” He said that New York Emancipation Day “was a proud day, never to be forgotten by young lads.”
After freedom Smith became an apprentice to a blacksmith. He had a great hunger for education so he studied as he worked. In the evenings and on Sundays he learned Greek and Latin because he wanted to go to medical school and those languages were required.
He applied to two American medical schools but was turned down because of his skin color. However the University of Glasgow in Scotland admitted him. He received his MD in 1837 making him the first African American physician. He returned to New York City and opened a successful medical and surgical practice at 93 West Broadway.
James McCune Smith was also an abolitionist and an essayist. He wrote for several black and anti-slavery newspapers. Here are some quotations from Dr. Smith:
“People frown upon the works of their Creator — upon their fellow creatures, not for the hue of the soul, but of the skin.”
“Public opinion is the king of today and rules the land.”
“Anglers for ideas snake out, or snoop out the pools richest in thought material, where golden ideas flash thick and fast.”
“Like causes under like circumstances will produce like effects.”
“We must overturn the doctrine that ‘might makes right’ and we can only do so by demonstrating that ‘right makes right.’”
“The Constitution of these United States holds that there are some ‘other persons’ — besides all men — who are not entitled to rights. We are these ‘other persons’ — we are the exception. It is our destiny to prove this exception is wrong and therefore contrary to the highest interests of the whole people.”
“Learned men in their rage for classification and from a reprehensible spirit to bend science to provoke peculiar prejudices, have brought the human spirit under the yoke of classification and have placed us in the very lowest rank.”
“The greatest privilege of all is that full and abiding confidence in God, that firm reliance in the saving power of the Redeemer’s love.”