Richard Theodore Greener Papers, 1876-1919

South Caroliniana Library

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Born in Philadelphia in 1844, Greener rose to relative prominence early in his academic career, as the first black graduate of Harvard University in 1870. Three years later, he accepted a position at the University of South Carolina, where he taught philosophy, Latin, and Greek and served as the school’s Librarian. He was the first and only African-American member of the faculty, and served until 1877 when newly elected Governor Wade Hampton III closed the university. During his tenure he also earned his law degree from USC, and was admitted to practice by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Following his departure from the university, he took positions as a professor at Howard Law School and eventually as the Dean of the Law School. In 1880, he began a two-year stint as a law clerk to the first comptroller of the United States Treasury. After a series of other civil service positions, Greener was appointed the United States Commercial Agent in Vladivostok, Russia.

Greener’s personal life was marked by frequent upheaval. In 1874 he married Genevieve Ida Fleet, and the couple had six children. Greener and his wife separated when he relocated to Russia, and he became estranged from his family. In Vladivostok, he took a common law wife, Mishi Kawashima, and had three children. When his diplomatic position ended and returned to the United States, Mishi and the children remained and eventually settled in China. By 1917, Greener made his to way to Chicago, where he moved in with distant relatives. Greener died of natural causes in Chicago on May 2, 1922.

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