James McCune Smith (1813-1865)
James McCune Smith, later a brilliant doctor and abolitionist, was a student at the African Free School in 1824. The son of a black woman and an unknown white man, Smith was almost certainly the star of his class. Later, he studied medicine in Glasgow, Scotland, after he was denied admission to two medical schools in the United States because of his race.
He was the first university-trained black doctor in America. The “nation” side of the pavilion explores the world of medicine in Smith’s time, when treatments included the use of bleeding bowls and leeches to rid patients of “bad blood,” as well as the successful use of a vaccine against smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases known.
Families present and record a speech Smith gave as a student at the African Free School, practice their penmanship, and explore Smith’s professional life in a digital interactive game.
An Address Delivered by James McCune Smith, 1824.
New-York African Free-School Records
New York Historical Society
In a class of smart children, James McCune Smith was perhaps the smartest. When a great hero was about to visit his school in lower Manhattan, James was the one chosen to take his teacher’s words, write them out in his perfect handwriting, and stand tall to deliver them. He was 11 years old, and he must have felt very proud. The elderly hero was the great Frenchman, Lafayette, who had fought alongside George Washington during the American Revolution. The school was the African Free School, Number 2, on Mulberry Street.
Visit the James McCune Smith pavilion in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum to find out what he did when he grew up!