First African American doctor honoured by Glasgow University

A new £90 million learning and teaching facility at the University of Glasgow has been named after American abolitionist and medic James McCune Smith.

A portrait of James McCune Smith - the first African American Doctor, graduate of the University of Glasgow

James McCune Smith

McCune Smith was the first African American to receive a medical degree, graduating from the University of Glasgow with an MD in 1837.

The James McCune Smith Learning Hub will open in the next academic year, 2019/20, and is the first new building being delivered through the University’s £1 billion Campus Development programme.

The new facility will provide learning and teaching space for over 2,500 students and will include flexible learning spaces and technology-enabled teaching resources.

The announcement the publication of a comprehensive report detailing the University of Glasgow’s historical links with racial slavery, which includes a programme of reparative justice, as revealed in Scotland Correspondent magazine.

James McCune Smith was born into slavery in 1813, however was freed by New York State’s Emancipation Act on July 4, 1827.

Artist impression of how the new £90 million James McCune Smith building at the University of Glasgow will look

Photograph by: University of GlasgowArtist impression of how the new James McCune Smith building will look

Recognised as being intellectually gifted, McCune Smith attended the African Free School in Manhattan where his academic achievements led him to apply to several American universities.

After being denied entry to all due to his race, McCune Smith applied for – and was accepted by – the University of Glasgow’s medical school.

McCune Smith went on to gain three qualifications from the University of Glasgow – a bachelor’s degree in 1835, a master’s degree in 1836, and his medical doctorate in 1837.

Upon returning to New York McCune Smith set up medical practice in lower Manhattan and grew to be recognised as a prominent figure in the New York black community and a leading intellectual.

Full story in Scotland Correspondent magazine

On 8 October the University of Glasgow laid a foundation stone at the site of the James McCune Smith Learning Hub to mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation stone which was laid at the Gilbert Scott Building, when the University first relocated to Gilmorehill.

“James McCune Smith was truly a pioneer, not only becoming the first African American to gain a medical degree, but also one of the leading intellectuals of his time,” said Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow.

“The University of Glasgow is proud of our association with his legacy and it is fitting that we honour it in the naming of this building. The new James McCune Smith Learning Hub will revolutionise how we deliver learning and teaching support and provide a world-class facility for generations of future students from around the world.

“This is also consistent with actions agreed in our recent report, to provide reparative justice due to the University’s historical links with racial slavery, and emphasises our commitment to that programme.

“It is particularly pleasing that we can announce the naming of the James McCune Smith Learning Hub and mark the start of the development of the new western campus on the 150th anniversary of the original foundation stone being laid at our Gilmorehill campus.”

One comment

  • Accolades to University of Glasgow for opening the doors for James McCune Smith to attain a medical degree. However: what sort of accelerated courses was he given that he earned:

    1: A Bachelor’s degree 1835
    2: A Master’s degree 1836
    3: A Medical Doctorate in 1837

    Here in California – an A.A. degree in Library Technology – two years at Community College level.

    a B.A. degree in Liberal Studies (Education) – between three and four years

    a B.E E. degree in electrical engineering – Ohio State University – five years in 1950s.

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