University of Glasgow honours life of James McCune Smith – The Scotsman – Born to an enslaved mother in 1813 but freed by the New York State’s Emancipation Act, McCune Smith was recognised early on as being intellectually gifted.
He attended the African Free School in Manhattan, but when he applied for entry to several American universities he was refused admission.
Despite slavery still in existence in the British Caribbean, and racist views remaining prevalent across the United Kingdom, the University of Glasgow stepped in and offered him a place, which he took up in 1832.
“McCune Smith’s mother had been a slave in South Carolina, but he was freed in 1827, when New York freed all the enslaved people in the state,” said Professor Simon Newman, lead academic on the university’s Runaway Slaves project.
“He was already attending school by that point and was clearly a brilliant pupil, so he applied for medical school several years later at Columbia and other American universities, but was rejected by them all.
“He was accepted by Glasgow, which ironically was a far better medical school than any of the American ones he had applied to.
“The free black community in New York mobilised and raised the money to send him.”