First Black Harvard Graduate's Diploma Sells for $12K

The diploma initially was appraised at $65,000

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    Mary Kohnke / Leslie Hindmann Auctioneers
    The diploma belonging to Richard T. Greener, Harvard's first African-American graduate and former dean of Howard University's law school, sold for $12,500 at a public auction.

    The bachelor's degree of the first African-American Harvard graduate sold Wednesday for $12,500.

    The diploma belonging to Richard T. Greener, former dean of Howard University's law school and Russian diplomat, was auctioned by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. Greener, the Ivy-league university's first black graduate, graduated from Harvard with honors in June 1870.

    Greener enrolled in Harvard in 1865, where he won two Bowdoin prizes as an undergraduate. He taught at the University of South Carolina, where he later earned his law degree in 1876. The University of South Carolina purchased some of Greener's papers for $52,000.

    He lived in Chicago with his cousins until his death in 1922. Greener's papers were discovered by Rufus McDonald, a contractor who found them while cleaning out an Englewood home set to be demolished.

    Though the diploma was appraised at $65,000, Harvard offered $7,500 for the diploma, the Sun-Times reported. After threatening to burn Greener's documents if Harvard did not make a reasonable offer, McDonald decided to auction them off to the public.

    "Our firm is honored to be facilitating the sale of this incredibly important document," said 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."

    The name of bidder who purchased the diploma is unknown at this time.