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Harvard's first African-American alumnus diploma may fetch $15K

The 1865 diploma received by Richard T. Greener, the first African-American man to graduate from Harvard College, is headlining the Aug. 6 sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

CHICAGO -- Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will offer the original 1865 diploma received


Partially printed document, one page, on vellum, being the original Bachelor of Arts diploma for Richard Theodore Greener from Harvard College, June 28, 1870.

by Richard T. Greener, the first African-American man to graduate from Harvard College. The document made headlines in 2013 when the owner, who had recovered it while clearing out a home in Chicago, threatened to burn it if he was unable to get a reasonable offer from the institution. However, to the relief of many, the owner chose not to follow through on his threat, but rather to offer it at public auction.

Greener, who graduated in 1870, was a pioneer of social and racial equality in the racially divided South. His Harvard diploma, a document of incalculable historical significance, has never before been offered at public auction. “Our firm is honored to be facilitating the sale of this incredibly important document,” says Mary Kohnke, Director of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. “Greener’s Harvard diploma is a symbol of the power of the individual spirit to overcome incredible prejudice and break down institutional and social barriers.”

After studying at Oberlin and Andover, Greener enrolled at Harvard in 1865, where he won two Bowdoin prizes as an undergraduate. Following his graduation with honors, Greener taught philosophy at the University of South Carolina, from which he was able to obtain his law degree in 1876. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1878 and later became the dean of the School of Law at Howard University. Greener was appointed secretary of the Grant Memorial Association in New York in 1885 and later U.S. commercial agent at Vladivostok in Siberia by President McKinley in 1898. He retired from office and foreign service in 1905, and lived with cousins in Chicago until his death in 1922.

Richard Greener’s personal papers, previously thought to have been lost during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, were recovered in recent years by the present owner from a home in Chicago, which was being demolished. A portion of the documents were sold to the University of South Carolina for $52,000.


The diploma will be available for public viewing Sunday, August 3, through Tuesday, August 5, with the sale taking place on-site at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago Wednesday, August 6, at 12pm CST at 1338 West Lake Street. For inquiries, please contact 312.280.1212 or

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