By Angela L. Braden
Dr. James McCune Smith, born April 18, 1813 in New York City, is credited as being the first African American to earn a medical degree in the United States. Dr. Smith worked more than twenty years at the Colored Orphan Asylum and was one of the preeminent voices in the arena of African American health.
Dr. Smith is also known as being the first African American pharmacist. He owned and operated a pharmacy that served African American patients in New York City. The pharmacy is the first black owned and operated pharmaceutical company in the US.
While Dr. Smith is known for his professional contributions to medical science, he is also known for his tireless work in the anti-slavery movement. Dr. Smith was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and worked closely with Frederick Douglass. Douglass wrote that Dr. Smith was one of his greatest inspirations.
Dr. Smith helped found the National Council of Colored People in 1853. In addition, Dr. Smith was one of the thirteen that openly opposed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850.
Born Free and of mixed race, Dr. Smith worked tirelessly as an abolitionist and activist, while working as a physician. He provided medical services for both black and white patients in lower Manhattan at his own practice. He also worked as the only physician at the Colored Orphan Asylum, which also provided medical services for free people of color. In 1863, the hospital was burned down by Irish rioters in the 1863 New York Draft Riots. He moved his practice and family to Brooklyn to be in a safer environment for people of color, being that more than 100 people were believed to have died in the rioting.
After a thriving career in medicine and abolitionism, Dr. Smith died November 17, 1865 in Long Island, New York. He was 52-years-old.