More Richard T. Greener Documents Surface at Auction
Some of you may recall the emotional story reported a few years back about how Rufus McDonald, a Chicago construction worker, saved a trunkful of historical documents from the attic of a house that was about to be razed. The documents, long thought lost, belonged to Richard T. Greener, Harvard's first African-American graduate, and incidentally, the father of the Morgan Library's first librarian, Belle da Costa Greene.
After selling two of the documents to the University of South Carolina, where Greener was the first African-American faculty member, for a hefty $52,000, McDonald tried to sell Greener's Harvard diploma to Harvard, which resulted in a major misunderstanding and lots of headlines. The diploma finally went to public auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in August of 2014, where it sold for $12,500 to an unidentified buyer who then sold or gifted it to Harvard.
After that sale, I interviewed McDonald for a chapter in my book, Rare Books Uncovered. "I was very disappointed," he told me. He also said he intended to keep the remaining documents that he had discovered, but it appears he has changed his mind because a lot containing five Greener documents and one book is slated for auction later this week at Leslie Hindman. They include: a certificate honoring Greener as a member of the Society of the Sons of New York; a Russian document (Greener had been a US Commerical Agent with the Foreign Service); a certificate of membership in the American Missionary Association; a document acknowledging his donation to the Grant National Monument Association; an honorary membership certificate from the Pioneer Sunday School Association; and a copy of Autographs of Freedom (1853), a gift book that contains Frederick Douglass' novella, The Heroic Slave. All told, the auctioneer hopes it will bring in $6,000-8,000.