Chicago Man Backs Off Threat to Burn Historic Papers

Thursday, Oct 17, 2013  |  Updated 7:08 PM CDT
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A Chicago man who found historic papers documenting Harvard’s first black graduate inside an abandoned and looted Englewood home last year is taking back a threat to burn them if he wasn't offered more money.

The 140-year-old papers of Richard T. Greener, thought to have been lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, were discovered last year by 52-year-old contractor Rufus McDonald while he was cleaning out an attic near 75th and Sangamon, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Harvard University and several museums reportedly expressed interest in the papers and two of the documents were sold for $52,000 to the University of South Carolina, where Greener studied and taught.

McDonald claims Harvard offered him $7,500 for the remaining collection, including Greener’s diploma, which was appraised at $65,000, the Sun-Times reported.

The “insulting” offer reportedly led McDonald to threaten to burn the remainder of the items, though a university source familiar with the investigation told the Sun-Times Harvard offered McDonald “significantly more” than $7,500.

But McDonald said he believes the Ivy League school was trying to take advantage of him and insisted he will torch the collection if the university doesn’t offer him more cash. He now says he's "decided against it" due to overwhelming public reaction to his plans.

University of South Carolina archivist Elizabeth West told the paper she hopes McDonald doesn’t follow through with the threat and said losing the “priceless” documents “would be extremely unfortunate.”

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