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Uncompromising Activist

, 216 pages

7 b&w photos

September 2017



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Uncompromising Activist

Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College


Richard Theodore Greener (1844–1922) was a renowned black activist and scholar. In 1870, he was the first black graduate of Harvard College. During Reconstruction, he was the first black faculty member at a southern white college, the University of South Carolina. He was even the first black US diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. A notable speaker and writer for racial equality, he also served as a dean of the Howard University School of Law and as the administrative head of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument Association. Yet he died in obscurity, his name barely remembered.

His black friends and colleagues often looked askance at the light-skinned Greener’s ease among whites and sometimes wrongfully accused him of trying to "pass." While he was overseas on a diplomatic mission, Greener’s wife and five children stayed in New York City, changed their names, and vanished into white society. Greener never saw them again. At a time when Americans viewed themselves simply as either white or not, Greener lost not only his family but also his sense of clarity about race.

Richard Greener’s story demonstrates the human realities of racial politics throughout the fight for abolition, the struggle for equal rights, and the backslide into legal segregation. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock has written a long overdue narrative biography about a man, fascinating in his own right, who also exemplified America’s discomfiting perspectives on race and skin color. Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle.

Katherine Reynolds Chaddock is distinguished professor emerita of education at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of The Multi-Talented Mr. Erskine: Shaping Mass Culture through Great Books and Fine Music and Visions and Vanities: John Andrew Rice of Black Mountain College.

"An original, detailed, and interesting biography of Richard Greener, an overlooked figure in American higher education and public affairs. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock is one of the best writers about higher education, and she combines this skill with surprising and original research."

"A clear and accessible biography of a fascinating individual, Uncompromising Activist contributes depth and complexity to existing conceptions of race relations from the antebellum years to the Jim Crow era."

"Richard T. Greener is little-known today, but that oversight will be remedied with the publication of Katherine Chaddock's excellent biography. She clearly shows that Greener was a major figure in American history, despite the unrelenting prejudice he faced as a black man in nineteenth-century America. This book is a must-read for scholars and the public at large because, as Chaddock demonstrates, Greener was too important to continue to be neglected."

"Thoughtful and engrossing, Uncompromising Activist brings Richard Greener out from the shadows while exploring the man’s wide-ranging impact whether in the Reconstruction South, New York, or faraway Siberia. Katherine Reynolds Chaddock ably uses Greener, a significant player in the struggle for racial justice, to show the prospects and perils of African American intellectuals of his era."

"The greatest strength in Chaddock's account is that it is driven by context. Although Uncompromising Activist focuses on the life of one man, it is a case study in how an individual’s life is defined as much by temporal circumstance as by individual choice."

"Mrs. Chaddock does a fine job in the short space she has to examine Mr. Greener’s life, accomplishments, and disappointments, something that he had to always struggle with. For bringing back to life a voice that has been lost and forgotten, this book does a good job."

"Uncompromising Activist is a lively tale that will interest anyone curious about the human elements of the equal rights struggle."

"Historians of education and of postbellum Black history will, of course, want to read this book. But so will many others. Chaddock deftly uses Greener's life as a window into each of the times and places in which he lived and into each of the debates in which he engaged. Uncompromising Activist thus would fit nicely into an undergraduate course on either African American or nineteenth-century U.S. history. Readers outside academia would find it a coherent and ample introduction to Black history after the Civil War—a surprising and rare accomplishment for a scholarly book, let alone a scholarly biography... Chaddock has written a fascinating account of a man and a world that helped shape our own and that deserve rediscovery."

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