A diploma belonging to Harvard’s first African-American graduate, Richard T. Greener, has been the subject of concern after the man who discovered it threatened to burn the document last fall. Now, that same diploma has been placed in an auction that opened earlier today.
Rufus McDonald, a construction worker who found a bevy of Greener’s historic artifacts, said he was going to burn the diploma after he alleged that Harvard offered him too low an amount. Changing his thoughts regarding the matter, McDonald has already sold many of Greener’s items for hefty fees and will add the diploma to his growing money haul.
This week, Greener’s Bachelor of Arts diploma will hit the auction block in Chicago, when it’s sold by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers to the tune of $15,000.
“Greener was a pioneer of social and racial equality in the racially divided South. His Harvard diploma, a document of incalculable historical significance, has never before been offered at public auction,” according to representatives from Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, who will put the diploma out to bid on Wednesday.
The document, dated July 1870, along with piles of other personal papers and artwork that belonged to Greener, were previously thought to have been lost during a San Francisco earthquake in 1906. In 2009, however, Rufus McDonald, a 52-year-old contractor, stumbled upon a treasure trove of Greener’s belongings while cleaning out an old house in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
So far, McDonald has earned thousands, including $52,000 from the University of South Carolina, an institution where Greener once taught. Using a series of items that included the diploma in a bid of sale to Harvard, McDonald said the university gave him a lower number than he expected.
Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has been clear in his hopes that the school will purchase the diploma and place it on display at the school.
The Leslie Hindman Auctioneers group will command the auction of the diploma, and McDonald will see a portion of the sale. However, McDonald may not make the $65,000 mark he originally hoped to collect from Harvard.