University learning hub named after first African American medical graduate

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A new £90 million building at the University of Glasgow has been named in honour of one of its former students who became the first African American to get a medical degree.

Abolitionist and medic James McCune Smith graduated from the university with an MD in 1837.

The James McCune Smith Learning Hub will open in the next academic year and is the first new building being delivered through a £1 billion campus development programme.

It comes as the university aims to provide “reparative justice” because of its historical links with the slave trade.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “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.

“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.”

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

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

James McCune Smith Learning Hub
The new building comes part of £1 billion campus development works (HLM)

The former slave went on to gain three qualifications from the university – a bachelor’s degree in 1835, a master’s degree in 1836, and his medical doctorate in 1837.

After returning to New York, he set up a practice in lower Manhattan and became recognised as a prominent figure in the black community and a leading intellectual.

The new facility named in his honour will provide learning and teaching space for more than 2,500 students.

A report was published by the university in September detailing its historical links with racial slavery, which includes a programme of reparative justice.

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