from the Smithsonian Magazine by Meilan Solly [Excerpt — full article at link]
James McCune Smith was not just any physician. He was the first African American to earn a medical degree, educated at the University of Glasgow in the 1830s, when no [US] university would admit him. For this groundbreaking achievement alone, Smith warrants greater appreciation.
But Smith was also one of the nation’s leading abolitionists. In 1859, Frederick Douglass declared, “No man in this country more thoroughly understands the whole struggle between freedom and slavery than does Dr. Smith, and his heart is as broad as his understanding.” A prolific writer, Smith was not only the first African American to publish peer-reviewed articles in medical journals; he also wrote essays and gave lectures refuting pseudo-scientific claims of black inferiority. He forecast the transformational impact African Americans were destined to make on world culture.
John Stauffer, a Harvard English professor who edited The Works of James McCune Smith, says that Smith is one of the underappreciated literary lights of the 19th century, calling him “one of the best-read people that I’ve encountered.”