Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-09-06 02:22Z by Steven

Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

Johns Hopkins University Press
September 2017
216 pages
7 b&w photos
Hardback ISBN: 9781421423296
E-book ISBN: 9781421423302

Katherine Reynolds Chaddock, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Education
University of South Carolina

Richard Theodore Greener (1844–1922) was a renowned black activist and scholar. In 1870, he was the first black graduate of Harvard College. During Reconstruction, he was the first black faculty member at a southern white college, the University of South Carolina. He was even the first black US diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. A notable speaker and writer for racial equality, he also served as a dean of the Howard University School of Law and as the administrative head of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument Association. Yet he died in obscurity, his name barely remembered.

His black friends and colleagues often looked askance at the light-skinned Greener’s ease among whites and sometimes wrongfully accused him of trying to “pass.” While he was overseas on a diplomatic mission, Greener’s wife and five children stayed in New York City, changed their names, and vanished into white society. Greener never saw them again. At a time when Americans viewed themselves simply as either white or not, Greener lost not only his family but also his sense of clarity about race.

Richard Greener’s story demonstrates the human realities of racial politics throughout the fight for abolition, the struggle for equal rights, and the backslide into legal segregation. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock has written a long overdue narrative biography about a man, fascinating in his own right, who also exemplified America’s discomfiting perspectives on race and skin color. Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: A Search for Identity
  • 1. Boyhood Interrupted
  • 2. Being Prepared
  • 3. Experiment at Harvard
  • 4. An Accidental Academic
  • 5. Professing in a Small and Angry Place
  • 6. The Brutal Retreat
  • 7. Unsettled Advocate
  • 8. A Violent Attack and Hopeless Case
  • 9. Monumental Plans
  • 10. Off White
  • 11. Our Man in Vladivostok
  • 12. Closure in Black and White
  • Epilogue: The Passing of Richard Greener
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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USC to erect statue of first African-American professor

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-23 16:01Z by Steven

USC to erect statue of first African-American professor

The State

Avery G. Wilks, Reporter

A portrait of Richard T. Greener on display at USC. Larry Lebby Larry Lebby

COLUMBIARichard T. Greener was little remembered in Columbia for almost 150 years.

Then, in 2012, Greener’s law degree and law license were found in a Chicago house that was being demolished. And Greener and the University of South Carolina were reunited.

Monday, USC will celebrate Greener, its first African-American professor.

And, next fall, Greener, who taught classics, math and constitutional history at USC from 1873-77, will become the first historical figure to be immortalized with a statue on USC’s downtown Columbia campus…

Read the entire article here.

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Discovery of first black Harvard grad’s papers leads to as many questions as answers

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-09-10 22:55Z by Steven

Discovery of first black Harvard grad’s papers leads to as many questions as answers

Cable News Network (CNN)

Stephanie Siek

(CNN) – The story of Richard Theodore Greener is a book with many blank pages. The first African-American to graduate from Harvard University in 1870, he was one of the foremost black thinkers of his time, rising to prominence between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois and praised by both. Greener was the dean of Howard University’s law school, a diplomat and also the University of South Carolina’s first black professor and head librarian.

The recent discovery of some of Greener’s papers in Chicago could fill in some of those pages. But the ironies of his life remain.

One daughter of this book-loving man and advocate for racial equality would go on to become the most respected librarian of her era and an expert on medieval illuminated manuscripts—but not as a woman of color. Belle Marian Greener, who was born to Greener and his first wife, Genevieve Ida Fleet, passed for white. Even lighter-skinned than her two light-skinned African-American parents, she changed her name to Belle da Costa Greene to reflect a fabricated Portuguese ancestry that would explain her complexion.

Portuguese ancestry that would explain her complexion.

After separating from Fleet, Greener accepted consular appointments in Bombay (now Mumbai), India and Vladivostok, Siberia, but neither Fleet nor their children joined him. Da Costa Greene burned most of her personal papers before her death in 1950, and except for a possible visit with her father after his retirement in Chicago, the degree to which she and Greener kept in contact is a mystery.

While working as an American consular official in Vladivostok in 1898, Greener began a relationship with a Japanese woman, Mishi Kawashima, with whom he had a daughter and two sons. He then had to leave them behind in Vladivostok in 1906, when he was the victim of a rumor campaign that resulted in his retirement.

It’s possible that racism played a role in his reasons for leaving the post, said Michael Mounter, a historian and research librarian at the University of South Carolina who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Greener. Among the rumors flying at the time, Mounter said, were that he “was drinking too much and had a Japanese mistress.”

“You had a group of white Americans living in Vladivostok and he originally went to social events with them,” said Mounter.  “He did not identify himself specifically as being black. He didn’t want to, he didn’t see the point in it.”

“One might say, ‘Well, he was passing for white.’ Others might say he just wanted to be judged on his own merits,” said Mounter…

Read the entire article here.

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