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Columbia Business Monthly

USC Unveils Statue Commemorating First African-American Professor

Feb 22, 2018 10:48AM ● By Kathleen Maris

Photo: U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (left) and USC President Harris Pastides (right) unveil the statue of Richard T. Greener.

Richard T. Greener, the University of South Carolina’s first African-American professor, returned to campus on Wednesday, Feb. 21 in the form of a 9-foot-tall statue officially unveiled near the Thomas Cooper Library. Greener is the first individual to be memorialized with a statue on the university’s central campus.

The unveiling was preceded by remarks from U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, USC President Harris Pastides, and others who paid tribute to Greener’s legacy as a pioneer in higher education and beyond.

“I’m proud we’re unveiling a statue to honor the life and legacy of Richard T. Greener. With these types of events, we affirm our shared values and beliefs, building greater progress in advancing our common pursuit towards greater liberty and equality,” Pastides said.

Greener’s is a story of firsts — in addition to being USC’s first black professor, serving during Reconstruction from 1873-77, Greener was also Harvard’s first black graduate and America’s first black diplomat to a country of white citizenry. While at USC, Greener taught courses in philosophy, Latin, Greek, and law, as well as serving as a librarian.

Nearly 80 years after his death in 1922, Greener’s Carolina connection was revived during USC’s bicentennial celebration in a commissioned one-act play, which chronicled Greener’s life with the backdrop of 19th-century racism. Greener’s original USC law school diploma and state law license were acquired by the university in 2012.

“Black History Month is a time for reflection and rededication,” Clyburn said. “It's the perfect time to consider the life and legacy of this trailblazing educator as we forge a future full of opportunities for all."

USC Chief Diversity Officer John Dozier says the unveiling also comes when many communities across the nation are questioning how to appropriately address historical injustices.

“This is a time when many Southern universities, including our own, are having important conversations about how to account for their histories. We at USC are proud that today we can celebrate--in a very tangible way--a legacy that holds true to our current values and aspirations,” Dozier said.

About Richard T. Greener

  • First African-American professor at the University of South Carolina, teaching during the era of Reconstruction, 1873-1877.
  • Born Jan. 30, 1844, in Philadelphia, grew up in Boston and became Harvard’s first African-American graduate in 1870.
  • In 1873, he came to the University of South Carolina where he taught philosophy, Latin, Greek, and law and served as librarian.
  • Earned a bachelor of law degree from USC, among the first black graduates of the law school; admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1876.
  • After the university was temporarily closed in 1877, Greener was a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., and a professor and dean of the Howard University Law School.
  • USC acquired Greener's law diploma and license to practice law in South Carolina after those documents were discovered in an abandoned Chicago home scheduled for demolition.
  • The Black Alumni Council has awarded a Greener Scholarship to an incoming student annually since 1983.

About the Statue

  • The statue is 9 feet in height, with a 20” pedestal.
  • It is constructed from silicon bronze, which will endure at least 5,000 years of wear.
  • It weighs approximately 1,600 pounds.
  • Sculptor Jon Hair was commissioned to create the Greener sculpture after winning a juried competition in 2013