James McCune Smith, MD

James McCune Smith, MD, was a man of firsts. In 1837, he became the first black American to receive a medical degree — although he had to enroll at the University of Glasgow Medical School because of racist admissions practices at U.S. medical schools. And that was far from his only groundbreaking accomplishment. He was also the first black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States and the first black physician to be published in U.S. medical journals.

Smith used his writing talents to challenge shoddy science, including racist notions of African-Americans. Most notably, he debunked such theories in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Smith was a staunch abolitionist and friend of Frederick Douglass. He contributed to Douglass’ newspaper and wrote the introduction to his book, My Bondage and My Freedom.