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The story of pioneering Black scholar Richard T. Greener and his achievements have not been discussed as often as many of his historic contemporaries. As the first Black person to graduate from Harvard, teaching in the racially divided south and becoming dean of Howard University’s law school, Greener’s legacy doesn’t resonate as loudly compared to others. In a quick twist of fate, a construction foreman in Chicago stumbled upon a finding that may soon change that distinction, reports NPR.

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Foreman Rufus McDonald and his crew were moments away from destroying a storage trunk in a building in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. Deciding to save the trunk, McDonald unveiled a gold mine of findings. Documents, photos and books were found, prompting McDonald to take the items to a local rare book dealer, giving the construction worker a valuable history lesson in the process.

“He said, ‘Do you know who this is?’ I said, ‘Nah, who is it?’ He said, ‘It’s Richard Theodore Greener,” McDonald recalls. “I said, ‘Who is he?’” chuckled McDonald. Learning quickly about Greener’s past, the discovery of the trunk garnered interest from Harvard, and museums across the country, including Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History. Carol Adams, president of DuSable, even considers Greener’s achievements the spark that led to the intellectual rise of President Barack Obama.

To listen to the NPR story, click here.


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