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Richard T. Greener
*Richard Theodore Greener was born on this date in 1844. He was a Black administrator, politician, lawyer, and educator.
From Philadelphia, when Greener was about nine, his father left the family to pursue mining opportunities in California. Tragically, his father was presumed dead after efforts to locate him failed. His mother moved the family to Boston, then to Cambridge in search of educational opportunities for her son. Greener received his early education at the Broadway Grammar School until he was about 14, when he quit to support his mother.
Greener found several jobs and was able to support his family as well as get his education. One of Greener's employers, Franklin B. Sanborn, a famous teacher and reformer, used his influence to get him accepted to Oberlin College. After three years at Oberlin, Greener left to study at Harvard College. In his sophomore and senior year at Harvard, he won a Bowdoin Prize for elocution. In 1870, he received an A.B. degree becoming their first Black graduate.
From there Greener became principal of the Male Department at Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth, which later became Cheyney University. In 1873, he became principal of the Sumner High School in Washington, DC. While he was a staff member of The New National Era, then edited by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He was also associate editor of the National Encyclopedia of American Biography. In late 1873, Greener became Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of South Carolina, where he served as librarian, taught Philosophy, and assisted in the Departments of Latin and Greek, Mathematics, and Constitutional History. In 1875, he became the first Black to be elected a member of the American Philological Association, the primary academic society for classical studies in North America.
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. He became first secretary of New York's Grant Memorial Association, and assisted in raising funds to finance Grant's Tomb. In 1898, he was appointed United Consul to Bombay India, and then transferred to Vladivostok, Russia, becoming the first American to hold this post.
In 1902, the Chinese Government decorated him with the Order of Double Dragon for his service to the Boxer War and assistance to Shansi famine sufferers. After his retirement in 1906, Greener lived in Chicago where he died on May 15, 1922. For more information on this subject, please see
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York