Diploma of First African American Harvard Grad to be Auctioned Off

–Brian Snyder/REUTERS

Last fall, the Chicago man who found the 140-year-old diploma of Harvard University’s first African American graduate threatened to burn the document.


Because Rufus McDonald, a construction worker, said that when he approached Harvard University with the historic document, among other personal Richard T. Greener documents, they didn’t offer him enough money. He then decided that threatening to burn the papers was the next logical step.

McDonald told The Chicago Sun-Times the $7,500 offer Harvard gave him was “insulting,’’ and threatened, “I’ll roast and burn them.’’

Luckily, this never came to fruition, and now Greener’s diploma, dated 1870, is set to be auctioned off, Boston Magazine reports.


Greener’s Bachelor of Arts diploma and other documents will be sold off for between $10,000 and $15,000 at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago Wednesday. This is much lower than the price McDonald originally asked for from Harvard — around $65,000.

According to the Auctioneers’ website, Greener enrolled in Harvard in 1865, and won two Bowdoin Prizes as an undergraduate. After graduating, he taught philosophy at the University of South Carolina. The documents were thought to be lost in a 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but were unearthed by McDonald in 2009.

Funny enough, since the documents are being sold through an auction house, McDonald won’t get to pocket the full amount of the sale. And if they don’t sell, McDonald can take them home and do whatever he wants with them. (Hopefully this wouldn’t involve matches or a lighter.)

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