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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Profiles in Black History: Richard Greener

February is Black History Month and in commemoration, each week The Mass Media will present a biography on a leader in the black community who has had some significance to Boston.

This week’s leader is Richard Greener, who is most well known for being the first African-American to graduate from Harvard University, and later, the Dean of Howard University Law School.

Richard Greener grew up poor in Philadelphia, but moved to Boston with his family when he was nine years old. He had to quit school in his teenage years in order to earn money to support his family. The young Greener worked as a clerk, a night watchman and a porter, among other jobs.

In 1864, Greener got lucky when two of his bosses, August E. Batchelder and George Herbert Palmer, saw his potential and eagerly put up the funds to help Greener attend preparatory school at Oberlin College in Ohio. After a couple of successful years at Oberlin, Mr. Greener decided to transfer to Harvard College. It was only with the consent of his boss, Mr. Batchelder, and Harvard’s experimental African-American education program that Mr. Greener was allowed to go to Harvard at all, but he ended up graduating with honors.

After graduating from Harvard, Mr. Greener went on the teach at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, eventually becoming principal of the Preparatory School for Colored Children in Washington, D.C. As he gained more and more publicity for his intellectual success, Mr. Greener received an offer from the University of South Carolina to become a professor of philosophy.

The South Carolina University shut down shortly after Mr. Greener became a professor, and he was forced to move to Washington, D.C., where he was hired as a clerk in the Treasury Department. At this time he also worked as a professor at Howard University, where he would eventually become the Dean of Students.

Richard Greener also served as a civil service examiner in New York City and the head of the Colored Bureau of the National Republican Party. After being chair of the CBNRP, Mr. Greener served as the American commercial agent to Russia.

As the sun set on Mr. Greener’s life in the early 1900s, he left the National Service and worked in an insurance company while practicing law on the side. On May 2, 1922, Richard Greener died from natural causes; he will be remembered as one of the great, early African-American intellectuals.