Skip to main content

UCI School of Medicine Recognizes Black History Month: James McCune Smith

Posted: 2024-02-15

Source: UCI School of Medicine
News Type: 

The lineage of Blacks and African Americans in academic medicine begins with James McCune Smith, MD, who was the first African American to earn a medical degree. Unable to pursue higher education in the United States because of his race, Dr. Smith attended the University of Glasgow from 1832-37, obtaining his bachelor’s, master’s and medical degrees.

Upon returning to the U.S., Smith opened the country’s first Black-owned pharmacy and became the first African American to publish in a peer-reviewed medical journal. He also used his position and expertise to speak vehemently against phrenology, the notion that head shape and size dictate the intelligence of different racial groups, as well as debunking miscalculated statistics from the US Census that attempted to imply the physiological inferiority of Black people.

Beyond medicine, Smith was also a significant figure in the abolition movement and a well-known peer of Frederick Douglass. The totality of his accomplishments serves as a foundational example of how the pursuit of health equity can uplift the health and well-being of patients, physicians and the community at large. Nearly 200 years after Smith’s life, our colleagues in the UCI School of Medicine continue his legacy through their innovative and intersectional work.

Return to home page