Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on September 22nd, 2015
James McCune Smith: The man who overcame seemingly impossible odds to become the first African American doctor.

James McCune Smith
James McCune Smith  

Here is his incredible story:

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Born in New York City in 1813 to Lavinia Smith, a slave from South Carolina and Samuel Smith, her owner, a white merchant, the future Dr. Smith was raised by his mother.

As a child, he attended the African Free School, a school for black children in Manhattan, where he was an outstanding student.

Young James was determined to go to medical school but despite his academic achievements, no U.S. Medical school had ever admitted a black person and his application was rejected each place he applied.

But a leading black abolitionist, Rev. Peter Williams saw this young man's amazing potential and encouraged James to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Rev. Williams raised the money to pay for his ocean crossing, education and his room and board.

As a result, Dr. Smith received his bachelor's degree in 1835, his master's degree in 1836 and his medical degree in 1837, graduating at the top of his class.

But when Dr. Smith returned to the U.S., widespread discrimination awaited him.

However, in 1846 one very special place proudly hired him as its medical director, the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City, and he remained its medical director for nearly 20 years.

This Asylum was founded in 1836 by three Quakers, to rescue destitute black children, the first such American institution, and at times it became home to over 400 children.

But a single event would threaten the survival of the Asylum, and deeply shake Dr. Smith.

During the U.S. Civil War, soldiers were dying in masse and in 1863, desperate for more soldiers; the U.S. government began the nation's first draft.

But in New York City, thousands of white men refused to be drafted into a war to free the slaves and they set off one of the largest race riots in U.S. history.

From July 13th, to July 16th, consumed by hate, and in many cases fueled by alcohol, a mob of white men and women randomly killed 119 black people.

They looted and burned down the Asylum, as the terrified children led by a heroic matron and her staff and protected by several brave firemen, barely escaped with their lives.

The police put those children in protective custody until order was restored by thousands of U.S. soldiers, arriving from where they had just fought in Gettysburg, sent by President Lincoln.

With Dr. Smith as one of the leaders, the Asylum was temporarily reestablished on what today is Roosevelt Island, and eventually moved elsewhere in New York City.

Aside from the Asylum, Dr. Smith was an abolitionist. Working with Frederick Douglass, they co-founded the National Council of Colored People, the first national organization for black people.

He also participated in the Underground Railroad; to help fleeing slaves find safety and freedom, and was a preeminent national speaker and writer, refuting the claims of black inferiority used to justify slavery.

Dr. Smith died at 52 in 1865, the year the U.S. Civil War ended. 19 days after his death, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified, outlawing slavery in the U.S. in what would have been a dream come true for this great doctor.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Dr. Smith, click here, here, and here. To learn about the Colored Orphan Asylum click here, and its burning, here, and here. To learn what became of the Colored Orphan Asylum, click here.

In the next KazanToday: The remarkable story of a teenage girl who used her babysitting money to start an orphanage and then a school.

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