James McCune Smith

Dr. James McCune Smith was an African American abolitionist and ally with Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery, Smith was freed at the age of 14. He traveled to Glasgow, Scotland where he got his medical degree making him the first African American to do so. Douglass admired Smith for his education and vocal support for abolition. Douglass asked Smith to write the introduction to his first autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom.

“It is not without a feeling of pride, dear reader, that I present you with this book. The son of a self-emancipated bond-woman, I feel joy in introducing to you my brother, who has rent his own bonds, and who, in his every relation–as a public man, as a husband and as a father–is such as does honor to the land which gave him birth. I shall place this book in the hands of the only child spared me, bidding him to strive and emulate its noble example. You may do likewise. It is an American book, for Americans, in the fullest sense of the idea. It shows that the worst of our institutions, in its worst aspect, cannot keep down energy, truthfulness, and earnest struggle for the right. It proves the justice and practicability of Immediate Emancipation. It shows that any man in our land, “no matter in what battle his liberty may have been cloven down, * * * * no matter what complexion an Indian or an African sun may have burned upon him,” not only may “stand forth redeemed and disenthralled,” but may also stand up a candidate for the highest suffrage of a great people–the tribute of their honest, hearty admiration. Reader, Vale!”[1]

Dr. James McCune Smith died on November 17, 1865 at the age of 52. He was buried in Cyprus Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Exact Grave GPS: 40.692542, -73.874635

[1] Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, ed. David W. Blight (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 25.

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