“…educated in Scotland, and breathing the free air of that country, he came back to his native land with the ideas of liberty which placed him in advance of most of his fellow citizens of African descent.  He was not only a learned and skilful physician, but an effective speaker, and a keen polished writer… A brave man himself, he knew how to esteem courage in others.”

 

McCUNE SMITH

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McCune Smith is a joint venture between my brother Simon and I. We grew up on a farm in the Hebrides where growing vegetables and home cooking are a way of life. We wanted McCune Smith to reflect our upbringing, serving artisan food that showcased Scotland’s larder and used ethical ingredients. With this in mind for our café’s menu, it was perhaps natural to turn to Scotland’s fertile history for its name. Though there are few visual reminders, McCune Smith is situated in the historic heart of Glasgow. It was on the slave walk with the historian Stephen Mullen that I stopped at the site of ‘Old College’ (1451-1878).

Philosophers such as James Watt and Adam Smith had made it the centre of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ as an aside Stephen also remarked about a distinguished physician who graduated in 1837 from ‘Old College’ as the first African American to achieve a medical degree. James McCune Smith’s legacy much like the area where he had studied has been largely overlooked until recently. An influential abolitionist, he was buried in an unmarked grave by his pale skinned children, to escape racial prejudice. For me, he embodies many of the positive and negative aspects of Glasgow’s history and like ‘Old College’ deserves to be celebrated.

 

McCune Smith Café’ at 3-5 Duke Street in Glasgow takes its name from Dr. James McCune Smith, the black intellectual and abolitionist who embodies two aspects of the history of the local area. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Glasgow was complicit in New World slavery through its lucrative trade in sugar, cotton and tobacco.  Paradoxically, at the same time, a small group of highly influential philosophers and scholars were changing the way people thought about the way they lived.  The Scottish Enlightenment, as it is now known, was a flourishing of intellectual thought based on empiricism that has resonated to the modern day.  Voltaire remarked: ‘It is to Scotland that we look for our idea of civilisation’.  Indeed, Frances Hutcheson, Adam Smith and John Millar, scholars at Old College, now the University of Glasgow, laid the first sustained philosophical critique of chattel slavery in the world.

 

This idea of civilisation and equality made it possible for James McCune Smith, an African American from a slave background, to study in Glasgow, at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, after he had been refused entry to American institutions on account of his race.  Enrolled in 1833 at ‘Old College’, when it stood on High Street, he went on to graduate at the top of his class in 1837.  He was the first African American in the world to hold a medical degree.  On his return to New York 16,000 people gathered to welcome him home.

 

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McCune Smith is a joint venture between my brother Simon and I. We grew up on a farm in the Hebrides where growing vegetables and home cooking are a way of life. We wanted McCune Smith to reflect our upbringing, serving artisan food that showcased Scotland’s larder and used ethical ingredients. With this in mind for our café’s menu, it was perhaps natural to turn to Scotland’s fertile history for its name. Though there are few visual reminders, McCune Smith is situated in the historic heart of Glasgow. It was on the slave walk with the historian Stephen Mullen that I stopped at the site of ‘Old College’ (1451-1878).

 

Philosophers such as James Watt and Adam Smith had made it the centre of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ as an aside Stephen also remarked about a distinguished physician who graduated in 1837 from ‘Old College’ as the first African American to achieve a medical degree. James McCune Smith’s legacy much like the area where he had studied has been largely overlooked until recently. An influential abolitionist, he was buried in an unmarked grave by his pale skinned children, to escape racial prejudice. For me, he embodies many of the positive and negative aspects of Glasgow’s history and like ‘Old College’ deserves to be celebrated.