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Uncompromising Activist

Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

Richard Theodore Greener (1844–1922) was a renowned black activist and scholar. In 1870, he was the first black graduate of Harvard College. During Reconstruction, he was the first black faculty member at a southern white college, the University of South Carolina. He was even the first black US diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. A notable speaker and writer for racial equality, he also served as a dean of the Howard University School of Law and as the administrative head of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument Association. Yet he died in obscurity, his name barely remembered.

His black friends and colleagues often looked askance at the light-skinned Greener’s ease among whites and sometimes wrongfully accused him of trying to "pass." While he was overseas on a diplomatic mission, Greener’s wife and five children stayed in New York City, changed their names, and vanished into white society. Greener never saw them again. At a time when Americans viewed themselves simply as either white or not, Greener lost not only his family but also his sense of clarity about race.

Richard Greener’s story demonstrates the human realities of racial politics throughout the fight for abolition, the struggle for equal rights, and the backslide into legal segregation. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock has written a long overdue narrative biography about a man, fascinating in his own right, who also exemplified America’s discomfiting perspectives on race and skin color. Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle.

About the Author

Katherine Reynolds Chaddock is distinguished professor emerita of education at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of The Multi-Talented Mr. Erskine: Shaping Mass Culture through Great Books and Fine Music and Visions and Vanities: John Andrew Rice of Black Mountain College.

Endorsements

"An original, detailed, and interesting biography of Richard Greener, an overlooked figure in American higher education and public affairs. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock is one of the best writers about higher education, and she combines this skill with surprising and original research."

- John R. Thelin, University of Kentucky, author of American Higher Education: Issues and Institutions

"A clear and accessible biography of a fascinating individual, Uncompromising Activist contributes depth and complexity to existing conceptions of race relations from the antebellum years to the Jim Crow era."

- Roger L. Geiger, Pennsylvania State University, author of The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II

"Richard T. Greener is little-known today, but that oversight will be remedied with the publication of Katherine Chaddock's excellent biography. She clearly shows that Greener was a major figure in American history, despite the unrelenting prejudice he faced as a black man in nineteenth-century America. This book is a must-read for scholars and the public at large because, as Chaddock demonstrates, Greener was too important to continue to be neglected."

- John F. Marszalek, Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, coeditor of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to the Twenty-First Century

"Thoughtful and engrossing, Uncompromising Activist brings Richard Greener out from the shadows while exploring the man’s wide-ranging impact whether in the Reconstruction South, New York, or faraway Siberia. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock ably uses Greener, a significant player in the struggle for racial justice, to show the prospects and perils of African American intellectuals of his era."

- Bernard E. Powers, College of Charleston, author of Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822–1885

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