Wednesday, 27 August 2014


                       BLACK                SOCIAL                HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Richard Theodore Greener (January 30, 1844 – May 2, 1922) was the first African-American graduate of Harvard College and dean of the Howard University School of Law.

Early life and education

Richard Greener was born in Philadelphia in 1844[1] and moved with his mother to Boston when he was approximately nine years old. He quit school in his mid-teens to earn money for his family, but one of his employers, Franklin B. Sanborn, helped him to enroll in preparatory school at Oberlin College. He studied at Phillips Academy and graduated in 1865. After three years at Oberlin, Greener transferred to Harvard College and earned a bachelor's degree in 1870. His admission to Harvard was "an experiment" by the administration and paved the way for many more black graduates of Harvard.[2]
An article appeared in the Rochester Daily Democrat on August 16, 1869: "Richard Theodore Greener, a young colored man and a member of the senior class of Harvard College, is giving public readings in Philadelphia. Mr. Greener's history is that of a persevering young man who has succeeded in living down the prejudices against his race and color, and attaining by industry, ability, and good character, a position of which he may well feel proud. He was awarded last year, at Harvard College, the prize for reading, and this year he has drilled two young white men who have likewise obtained prizes in the same branch. His course at Harvard has throughout been honorable. He is the first colored youth who has ever passed through that college."

Personal life

On September 24, 1874, Greener married Genevieve Ida Fleet, and they had six children. One of his daughters was Belle da Costa Greene, a prominent librarian. Greener separated from his wife, although they never divorced. She and her daughters changed their name to "Greene" to disassociate themselves from him. Belle, personal librarian to J. P. Morganpassed for white.
In 1898 Greener accepted a post from President William McKinley in VladivostokRussia. Leaving his family, he took a Japanese common-law wife, Mishi Kawashima, with whom he had three children. He successfully served as an American representative during the Russo-Japanese War, but was fired in 1905. Greener settled in Chicago with relatives. He held a job as an agent for an insurance company, practiced law, and occasionally lectured on his life and times. He died of natural causes in Chicago on May 2, 1922.[3]
His Harvard diploma and other personal papers were rediscovered in an attic in the South Side of Chicago in the early 21st century.[2] A great deal of discussion surrounds where the papers should be archived.

Professional life

Academic career

After teaching for two years at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia and then serving as principal at the Preparatory School for Colored Children in Washington, D.C., Greener accepted the professorship of mental and moral philosophy at the University of South Carolina in October 1873, where he was the university's first African-American faculty member[4] and where he also served as a librarian there helping to "reorganize and catalog the library's holdings which were in disarray after the Civil War".[5]
When the university was closed in June 1877 by Wade Hampton III and the newly elected Democratic regime, Greener moved to Washington, D.C., where he took a position as a clerk in the United States Treasury Department and as a professor in the Howard Law School. He served as dean of the Howard University School of Law from 1878 to 1880 and opened a law practice.[3] In 2009, some of his personal papers were discovered in the attic of an abandoned home on the south side of Chicago by a member of a demolition crew.[2][6]

Political and public service career

From 1885 to 1892, Greener served as secretary of the Grant Monument Association, where he is credited with having led the initial fundraising effort [7] that eventually brought in donations from 90,000 people worldwide to construct Grant's Tomb, still the largest mausoleum in North America. From 1885 to 1890 as a civil service examiner in New York City. In the 1896 election, he served as the head of the Colored Bureau of the National Republican Party in Chicago.[citation needed]
In 1898, Greener was appointed as the United States Commercial Agent in Vladivostok, Russia, after a quick stint in Bombay, India.[1] He held this until 1905. Greener left theforeign service in 1905, settling in Chicago with relatives.[3]

Other ventures

Greener also pursued a career as a writer. He was a staff member at The New National Era, which at the time was edited by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. At the same time he was also an associate editor for the National Encyclopedia for American Biography.[8]
In 1875, he became the first African American to be elected a member of the American Philological Association, the primary academic society for classical studies in North America.

Honors and awards

Along with having accomplished many African-American firsts, Greener earned several awards in his lifetime. In 1902, the Chinese government decorated him with the Order of the Double Dragon for his service to the Boxer War and assistance to Shansi famine sufferers.[1] While at Harvard in 1868 and 1870 he earned the Bowdoin Prize for elocution.[8]
He received two honorary Doctorates of Laws, one from Monrovia College in Liberia in 1882, and the other from Howard University in 1907.[1] In addition, several institutes have scholarships in his name. Phillips Academy has the Richard T. Greener 1865 Endowed Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship awarded to one Andover student annually for his or her four-year tuition. The University of South Carolina's Black Alumni Council sponsors the Richard T. Greener Endowment Fund, which provides $8,000 to six USC students for their four-year tuition.[9]