U.S.: Papers of Richard Greener Found – Harvard’s First African-American Alumnus

An abandoned home near Chicago’s South Side, was the unlikely hiding place for an important piece of black history — the papers of Richard Theodore Greener, Harvard’s first African-American alumnus.


Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma, his law license, photos and papers connected to his diplomatic role in Russia and his friendship with President Ulysses S. Grant were discovered by contractors hired to clear the home before its demolition in 2009, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.


Historians were reportedly shocked to learn that the documents had survived, since they were thought to have been lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, where Greener was visiting at the time.


Greener was born on January 30, 1844, and passed away in 1922. He is said to have been born to the son of a slave in Philadelphia in 1844, and to have left school at 14 to become a porter at a Boston hotel.  Richard T. Greener was the first black to enter the College and to complete the undergraduate curriculum with an A.B. in 1870. He was not, however, the first black to be admitted, a distinction belonging to Beverly Garnett Williams, in 1847. Williams died just before the academic year began and thus never entered the College.


Greener received a LL.B. degree at the University of South Carolina’s Law School in 1876, graduating with honors. He was admitted to the Supreme Court of South Carolina in 1877 and the bar of the District of Columbia the next year. In 1882, he received a LL.D. conferred by Monrovia College, Liberia, Africa, and in 1907 was honored with another LL.D. conferred by Howard University. In 1879, Greener was appointed Dean of Howard University’s Law Department and in 1881, opened a private law practice in Washington. During Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt’s administrations, Greener was a prominent figure in national and international affairs. In 1898, he was appointed United Consul to Bombay India, and then transferred to Vladivostok, Russia, becoming the first American to hold this post.


Click here to read entire story on this discovery of his papers in the Chicago Sun-Times.

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