In 2009, a home at 75th Street and Sangamon Street in the Englewood section of Chicago was contracted for demolition. The house was home to squatters and had been looted of anything of apparent value. But the contractor found an old trunk in the attic which contained the papers of Richard T. Greener. He didn’t know who Greener was, but later discovered he was the first Black graduate of Harvard University.
Included in the papers was Greener’s Harvard diploma, his law license, photos, and documents relating to the diplomatic role he undertook in Russia at the bequest of President William McKinley.
After graduating from Harvard in 1870, Greener was appointed a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina. When Reconstruction ended after the 1876 presidential election, Blacks were purged from the University of South Carolina and Greener lost his job. He became dean of the Howard University School of Law.
No one knows how Greener’s papers got into the attic of the Englewood home. Greener spent the last years of his life in Hyde Park. But that is six miles from where the papers were discovered.