Harvard University Archives. Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), professor, lawyer, and diplomat, was the first Black graduate of Harvard College, receiving his AB from the College in 1870.
not to mention but also Lillian Lincoln Lambert is an American businesswoman, and the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Business School (HBS), where she was one of the co-founders of the African-American Student Union. She graduated in 1969 and received the W. E. B.
From 1876 to 1879, Greener represented South Carolina in the Union League of America and was president of the South Carolina Republican Association in 1887 and was active in freemasonry. In 1875, Greener was appointed by the South Carolina Assembly to a commission to revise the South Carolina school system.
From 1880 until February 28, 1882, Greener served as a law clerk of the Comptroller of the United States Treasury.
In 1883, Greener and Frederick Douglass conducted a heated debate. Greener and the rising generation of black leaders advocated moving away from political parties and white allies, while Douglass denounced them as “croakers.” Greener, who nonetheless still respected Douglass’ achievements, helped organize a major convention to present black grievances to the nation. Decades had passed since the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and years since the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, but these advances had been rolled back or left unenforced, while Jim Crow laws spread in the South. Greener joined younger black leaders in questioning Douglass, who remained loyal to the Republican Party that had first fought for Black freedom then abandoned them. Douglass accused Greener of writing anonymous attacks motivated by “ambition and jealousy” that charged the older leader with “trading off the colored vote of the country for office.” Greener wrote that there were two Douglasses, “the one velvety, deprecatory, apologetic – the other insinuating, suggestive damning with shrug, a raised eyebrow, or a look of caution.”
From 1885 to 1892, Greener served as secretary of the Grant Monument Association, where he is credited with having led the initial fundraising effort that eventually brought in donations from 90,000 people worldwide to construct Grant’s Tomb. From 1885 to 1890 he was chief examiner of the civil service board for New York City and County. In the 1896 election, he served as the head of the Colored Bureau of the Republican Party in Chicago.
Just as Greener opposed Douglass, he was on the Washington side of the growing split in the African American world. On the one side was accomodationist, and therefore politically powerful and adequately funded, Booker T. Washington. On the other were Monroe Trotter, W. E. B. DuBois, and their followers, who insisted that under the Constitution they had rights and that those rights should be respected. From it were born the Niagara Conferences, and from them the NAACP. Greener was so closely allied with Washington that Washington sent him to the Second Niagara Conference with the explicit charge of spying and reporting.
Along with having accomplished many African-American firsts, Greener earned several awards in his lifetime.
He received two honorary Doctorates of Laws, from Monrovia College in Liberia in 1882 and Howard University in 1907. Phillips Academy and University of South Carolina both grant annual scholarships in Greener’s name.
The central quadrangle at Phillips Academy was named in honor of Greener in 2018. The University of South Carolina erected a statue of Greener.
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.
On February 21, 2018 a nine-foot statue of Greener was unveiled at the University of South Carolina. It stands in front of the Thomas Cooper Library.