James McCune Smith Predicted African American Preeminence in U.S. Art and Culture


  • Amy M. Cools




James McCune Smith (1813–1865) was an African American physician, author, intellectual, community leader, and antislavery activist. He believed that the racial caste system of the United States was perpetuated not only by the slave system but by widely entrenched negative attitudes towards people of African descent, both outside and within the African American community. To counteract popular prejudice and to promote African American confidence and unity, he wrote widely on the abilities, accomplishments, and contributions of people of African descent, both historical and contemporary. This article examines McCune Smith’s theory that African Americans would play a formative and outsize role in the development of United States artistic and intellectual culture. From his time to ours, McCune Smith’s striking prediction was fulfilled to a degree that even he, inspired with the confidence his 1841 lecture “The Destiny of the People of Color” (published 1843) reveals, might marvel at.