James McCune Smith Pharmacy
In 1824, the aged Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette returned to America for a tour of the nation he had helped to forge. While in New York he asked to visit the African Free School. James McCune Smith was chosen to write and deliver the welcoming address. Smith was 11 years old.
Smith was a brilliant student who wanted to become a doctor. But there were no licensed black doctors in America then, so he was apprenticed to a blacksmith instead. As Smith worked the blacksmith’s bellows with one hand, he held a Latin grammar in the other and continued to study. But when he applied to Columbia College (called Kings College then) he was turned down. So instead he went to one of the world’s top medical schools in Great Britain. In five years he earned three degrees and graduated at the top of his class.
Upon his return to New York he opened a pharmacy at 93 West Broadway in 1837. Here he served both white and black patients in the front of the store. In the back, he met with fellow activists and conspired to end slavery in the South, to win the vote for blacks in New York, and to educate black youth. Together with abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown, he helped found the Radical Abolitionist Party. As the son of a self-emancipated mother, his pharmacy was a place where many escaping slaves found help. James McCune Smith worked for economic and social justice until his death in 1865, just a few weeks after passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International
The pharmacy of Dr. McCune Smith was located at 93 West Broadway. Many of the leading abolitionists and activists of the time met in his library in a back room.
Dr. James McCune Smith was the first licensed African American doctor in the country. This portrait was created by Patrick Reason, a friend and fellow student at the African Free School.