Legal History

Contractor threatens to torch historical documents of lawyer who was Harvard's first black graduate

A contractor who found historical documents chronicling the life of a pioneering African American lawyer is now threatening to torch many of the papers because Harvard’s offer to buy them was too low.

The contractor, Rufus McDonald, said he will “roast and burn” the documents because of an insulting $7,500 offer from Harvard University, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

McDonald found the documents inside a steamer trunk in an attic of an abandoned home slated for demolition, NPR and the Chicago Sun-Times reported last year. He took the documents to a rare-book dealer and learned the papers once belonged to Richard T. Greener, who was the first African American to graduate from Harvard University when he received his degree in 1870. Greener went on to earn a law degree at the University of South Carolina, where he later taught, and to serve as dean of Howard University’s law school.

McDonald sold Greener’s law license and law diploma to the University of South Carolina for $52,000. But McDonald said Harvard only offered $7,500 for other documents appraised at $65,000. A university source, however, told the newspaper that the offer was significantly higher than $7,500.

Hat tip to the Grid Eight.

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