Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook. Harvard University, George Kendall Warren, photographer.
Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook
Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook
Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook
Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook

Harvard's First Black Graduate, One of the “Talented Tenth”

Harvard Class of 1870 Photographic Yearbook.

[Cambridge: Harvard University, 1870].

109 albumen prints (some second generation), includes: 23 bust portraits (5-1/2 x 4 in.) of faculty; 6 landscapes (approx. 6-1/2 x 9 in.) of Harvard buildings and environs ; 73 bust portraits (5-1/2 x 4 in.) of the class of 1870, each SIGNED by the sitter beneath the image; and 7 group portraits (approx. 6 x 9 in.) of sporting, fraternity, and religious clubs, including 1 "Class of 1870" portrait. Folio. Harvard's First Black Graduate, One of the “Talented Tenth”. Full panelled brown morocco over bevelled boards, rubbed; spine titled in gilt, "Class Album. Harvard 1870" and on front cover, "Willard T. Perrin (1850-1929)."; a.e.g. Very Good. Item #236366

Of particular interest is the portrait of Richard Theodore Greener, Harvard College's first black graduate and the first black graduate of a top-tier university (Slater, "The Blacks who First Entered the World of White Higher Education" p. 48-9). "Among the representative young men of color in the United States--and now, happily in the process of time, their name is legion--Richard Theodore Greener has undisputed standing" (George Washington Williams, HISTORY OF THE NEGRO RACE IN AMERICA FROM 1619 TO 1880, p. 438).
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Boston, Greener (1844-1922) was light complected, having several European ancestors, though he never attempted to "pass" as white. His early schooling was erratic--after his father left for California to prospect for gold, Greener was forced to take various clerk and hotel jobs to help support his family. Employers noted Greener's intellectual gifts and encouraged him in a self-directed course of study. Greener also began attending political and abolitionist lectures and was eventually able to resume his formal education when a benevolent employer sponsored his enrollment at Oberlin. He then studied two years at Phillips Academy, Andover, and was accepted to Harvard in 1865.
"He lived alone in the dorm and struggled through his freshman year, which he had to repeat. [...] Although he did not report hostilities, he found his classmates continually curious and confused by him. Rumors spread that he was an escaped slave, that he had no prior education, or that he had served in the Civil War" (Ardizzone, AN ILLUMINATED LIFE, p. 19). Greener graduated with high honors, and his many awards include first prize in Boylston Declamation, First Bodwoin for a Dissertation, and the Boylston Prize for Oratory (Williams, p. 439).
Greener went on to a distinguished career in education, law, and civil rights: "Greener was a reflection of the professional elite, the "Talented Tenth" of the Negro race, whose accomplishments the leader W.E.B. Du Bois believed would both persuade white America to endorse social and political equality and actively help other members of the race to improve their educational, cultural, economic, and political standing. [...] Du Bois had specifically identified Greener as a member of this special group [...]" (Ardizzone, p. 15). Upon graduating, he held teaching positions in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. before accepting a professorship at the University of South Carolina during its brief Reconstruction-era experiment in integration. While there, Greener became the school's first African-American librarian, earned his law degree, and worked tirelessly to advance African-American rights and education. He later served as Dean of the Howard University law school and continued to practice law for much of his life--most notably defending West Point cadet Johnson C. Whittaker. Greener also wrote and lectured on African-American topics, debating Frederick Douglass on the issue of black migration (cf. Woodson, NEGRO ORATORS, pp. 453-487). Greener's daughter, Belle da Costa Greene, "passed" as white, and would go on to a brilliant career as J.P. Morgan's librarian.
In April 2016, Greener was honored by Harvard University with the unveiling in Annenberg Hall of a large-format photograph portrait. According to The Harvard Crimson, the portrait was presented as “part of Harvard Foundation’s portraiture project, which aims to diversify the artwork—a majority of which currently honors white male alumni and faculty—decorating Harvard buildings.”
An immensely important and rare item, a document from the tragically brief period of Reconstruction-era gains in civil rights for blacks. The yearbook includes one portrait of Greener SIGNED by him beneath the image; additionally, Greener appears in the Thayer Club ("Commons") group photo and the Class of 1870 group photo. The photographer, George Kendall Warren (1824-1884), was a distinguished northeastern landscape photographer and the most highly-regarded collegiate yearbook photographer to elite northeastern institutions: Dartmouth, Williams, Brown, Wesleyan, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, West Point, Union, and Harvard.

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