The Richard T. Greener Institute
Social Policy Research
February 1, 2018
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans
In Higher Education
Dr. Lady June Cole and Dr. Bruce K. Cole
Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World
March 16 – 18, 2018
For additional information, please contact:
Bruce K. Cole, President
The Richard T. Greener Institute
for Social Policy Research
1201 Main Street, Suite 1980
Columbia, SC 29201
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 2
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans
In Higher Education
By Dr. Bruce K. Cole and Dr. Lady June L. Cole
Richard Theodore Greener was a major thought leader and social innovator in the movement for African
American civil rights during and after the Reconstruction period of U.S. history. His experiences at two
institutions of higher education, Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the University of
South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina, were critical in shaping Greener’s world view. This paper
explores the cultural forces in place at these two schools, and throughout U.S. higher education, that forged
Greener’s unique vision for the future of African Americans. It also examines the social forces that
tempered his efforts to realize his vision. The authors consider the implications of Greener’s ideal view in
contrast with the efforts to achieve “social justice” in defining the role for historically black colleges and
universities today’s market for higher education.
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 3
Who was Richard T. Greener?
Richard Greener is known for the fact that he was the first African American student to graduate from
Harvard College in 1870, the first black faculty member at a southern white college and the first black US
diplomat to a white country, serving in Vladivostok, Russia. While these two factors by themselves appear
praiseworthy, given a cursory understanding of the historical context of these events, they pale in light of
Greener’s achievements during his lifetime. In addition to his administrative achievements in helping to
orchestrate USC’s experiment in integrating higher education and building South Carolina’s first modern
library system, he gave more than 65 public speeches and wrote 24 published papers in his lifetime
Greener’s writings, presentations and debates set the tone for the W.E.B. DuBois’
Niagara Movement (the precursor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
where he helped draft a number of the groups’ resolutions.
Greener was, by no means, the first black to graduate from an Ivy League college. Thomas Paul, Jr. was
the first African American to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1841. Richard Henry Green graduate
from Yale in 1857. Nor was Greener the first African American to graduate from Harvard University.
Before the end of the Civil War, approximately 40 blacks had graduated from colleges and universities, all
of which were in the North.
Similarly, Greener was not the first African American to teach in a mixed-race college. In 1849, Charles L.
Reason became professor of belles-lettres, Greek, Latin and French at New York Central College in
McGrawville, New York. He appears to be the first African American to teach at a mixed race institution
of higher education in the U.S. Passing for white, Patrick Francis Healy became the first black faculty
member at one of the nation’s highest-ranked and predominantly white universities when he joined
Georgetown University’s faculty to teach philosophy in 1868.
Greener’s Experiences at Harvard
Rather than focusing on “firsts,” it is more important to understand how Greener’s experiences at Harvard
and the University of South Carolina shaped his world view. The context for his positions on domestic and
foreign affairs were based on the ideals and values influenced by his Harvard education. He perfected his
oratory and writing skills while at Harvard. During his freshman year he won the Lee Prize for reading in
1865. He won the Bowdoin Prize as a sophomore for elocution and a second for Bowdoin Prize for best
senior thesis in 1870. These skills were to serve him well in his academic and legal pursuits later in life. In
his 1894 paper, “The White Problem,” he perfects the rhetorical device of the lecture, to turn around and
study as pathology what white culture has taken for its own normalcy and superiority (Greener, 1894).
Greener pillories U.S. society’s tendency to see white behavior as unproblematic and what deviates from
those customs as a “problem” (Nussbaum, 1997).
Greener made significant contacts while at Harvard. His meeting of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, also a
Harvard graduate, and President Ulysses S. Grant during their visits to campus proved fortuitous for
Greener’s professional career. In addition, through his extra-curricular activities (e.g., editor of the Harvard
Advocate) he developed relationships with students from the world’s most powerful families. Moreover,
The estimated number of speeches and publications are based on a physical count of the references to such works
in the Mounter thesis.
In addition to the relatively few African American students admitted to elite, predominantly white colleges, a
number of schools were established to offer undergraduate courses to both blacks and white students (e.g., Oberlin
College in Ohio and Berea College in Kentucky) https://www.jbhe.com/chronology/
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 4
his exposure to Boston’s old guard abolitionists and anti-slavery leaders taught him to stand up for his
At Harvard, Greener learned the liberating feeling of meritocracy. In that protected world, he felt that the
only limitation to his success was his own imagination and effort. Having been shielded from the vagaries
of the war during his preparatory studies at Oberlin College and Phillips Andover Academy, he was
unaware of the social transformation the nation was undergoing. Most scholars agree that the war made the
United States modern, ingrained the notion of a strong central government, accelerated broad-based
capitalism, and set in motion a cultural conflict over race, sovereignty, and states’ rights that still simmers
today (Ireland, 2012).
Greener at the University of South Carolina
His experience as a professor at USC, including his active campaigning for civil rights in the state during
Reconstruction, shaped his views on social justice and the value of equal access to education. At the start
of reconstruction, the University of South Carolina was an experiment in integrated education. Its board of
trustees, faculty and student body included members of both races. Being its sole African American
professor, Greener was an important part of the experiment. “By educating black and white men at the
university, Greener hoped to foster cooperation between the races and elevate the political and economic
status of freedmen” (Mounter, 2002, p.188).
Because the school was perennially underfunded, and because of his innate abilities, Greener was given a
broader set of responsibilities than a junior faculty member would have normally received in a more stable
academic setting. In addition to teaching Mental and Moral Philosophy at the university, he taught Latin,
Greek and Math at the preparatory school, and served as secretary of the Faculty Committee, librarian
(reorganizing a 27,000 collection cast into chaos during the Civil War), financial aid officer and law school
professor. Also during this period, he was appointed Treasurer of the USC Corporation and member of the
State Commission to Revise the State School System. During his spare time, he pursued is dream of
obtaining a law degree from the new USC law school, got married and had his first child. However, in spite
of, or perhaps, because of all the activities and responsibilities that competed for his time, “at the University
of South Carolina, as at Harvard, Greener enjoyed a measure of equality that most members of his race
would never experience” (Mounter, 2002, p. 165)
Because of the state’s poorly structured education system, the incoming USC students were generally
unprepared for college. At Reconstruction, secondary education was virtually non-existent, with students
having to leave the state to properly prepare for college. When it opened for the 1873 fall semester, the
school listed 30 students at its college preparatory school and 20 students at the university, 18 of which
were at the “sub-freshman” level (a Greener innovation prompted by his Harvard experience where he had
to repeat his freshman year), having had insufficient preparation in Latin, Greek and math. There were only
two students in the junior class. With the number of state scholarships available to citizens more than
doubling, the next year there were 115 students (Mounter, 2002).
Greener left USC in 1877 when it lost its funding under the administration of Democratic Governor Wade
Hampton. By joint resolution of the State General Assembly, the school was closed that year. Upon
reopening, black students were no longer admitted. While he gained incomparable professional exposure
during his tenure, Greener’s overall assessment of the experience was ambivalent. He did not get paid for
his last six months of work. In addition, the state government failed to pay him for an unspecified $20,000
claim. Most importantly, it was clear that the Hampton regime would not support black leadership at its
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 5
Upon leaving USC, Greener gained a profound understanding that individual ability would not always
overcome racial prejudice. In South Carolina, he had witnessed first-hand how the Democratic Party used
its “Red Shirt” brigades to intimidate blacks at the polls. He experience the deep regret when a white parent
withdrew his boy from the University of South Carolina because he believed that “white children could not
be taught by colored professors” (Mounter, 2002).
The Weight of Race Relations
Tempered by legal action as much as by events, race relations in America were poor but showed promise
during the period of Reconstruction. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision of 1857 set the tone for the
opening of this period my declaring that blacks have no rights that a white man was bound to respect.
However, the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had been supported by Massachusetts Senator
(and Harvard graduate) Charles Sumner create hope among African Americans and their white supporters,
that a positive change in race relations was on the horizon. The 1883 Supreme Court decision to strike down
the Civil Rights Act of 1875 proved that African American’s optimism was premature. For Greener, the
death blow to equity in the South for African Americans was the ratification of the1895 amendment to
South Carolina’s constitution which limited black male suffrage to 5,500 versus 50,000 white male voters.
Greener experienced pain of racism first hand after graduating from Harvard when his boss, Octavious
Catto, principal of male students at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, was murdered during
election-day violence. Anti-Reconstruction Democratic Party men, opposed to black suffrage, attacked him
and other black men to prevent their voting for Republican candidates. He had been refused
accommodations at the restaurant in the train depot in Washington, D.C. Finally, he had personally
experienced the politics of the separate but unequal segregated school system in Washington, D.C.
When he left to take his position at the University of South Carolina, Greener had hoped that an “innate
sense of justice” would eventually put an end to senseless prejudice in the U.S. However, the end of
Reconstruction brought with it an end to the circumstances that had contributed to Greener’s success. As
the Federal government pulled back troops in the South from enforcing civil rights for blacks, Greener
struggled to make a place for himself in public life. He concluded that African Americans had hoped in
vain for change and that only agitation would obtain justice.
African Americans in Higher Education During Reconstruction
Prior to the Civil War, there was no structured higher education system for black students. Public policy
and certain statutory provisions prohibited African American students from attending colleges and
universities in the South and in most parts of nation. However, before the end of the Civil War,
approximately 40 blacks had graduated from private colleges and universities in the North. See Appendix
1 for a list of the blacks attending historically white schools prior to 1877. The Institute for Colored Youth,
the first higher education institution for blacks, was founded in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, in 1837. It was
followed by two other black institutions--Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania (1854), and Wilberforce
University, in Ohio (1856).
Black colleges and universities began to truly flourish after Reconstruction with the onset of Jim Crow
Laws and Local Black Codes in the 1870’s. Figure 1 reflects the rapid growth in the number of black
colleges just after the Civil War. By 1870 there were a total of 22 HBCUs in the US. By the end of 1880,
there were 45 black colleges and universities in existence, reflecting a 105 percent growth over 10 years,
or an approximate doubling in number. By the end of 1990 the number had increased by another 42 percent,
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 6
to 64. By 1900, more than 2,000 blacks had earned higher education degrees, with only 20 percent
graduating from white colleges and universities, with the now 78 HBCUs producing the lion’s share of
Figure 1: Growth in Number of Historically Black Colleges 1870 – 1900
While these institutions were called “universities" or "institutes," a major part of their mission in the early
years was to provide elementary and secondary schooling for students who had no previous education. It
was not until the early 1900s that HBCUs began to offer courses and programs at the postsecondary level.
In order to cultivate self-sufficiency, independent-thinking, and political and economic engagement among
the newly-freed slaves, it was critical to overcome widespread illiteracy. The national rate of illiteracy
among blacks in 1880 was 70 percent compared to 9.4 percent for whites.
Coupled with the economic
crisis at that time and broad levels of black exploitation based on an expanded use of written contracts, the
meaning of freedom for the race was intricately tied to basic reading and writing skills. Normal schools,
colleges and universities had to fill this gap.
Public support for higher education for black students was reflected in the enactment of the Second Morrill
Act in 1890. The Act required states with racially segregated public higher education systems to provide a
land-grant institution for black students whenever a land-grant institution was established and restricted for
white students. The act established public land-grant institutions specifically for black sstudents in each of
the southern and border states. In total, 16 black institutions were designated as African American land-
grant colleges, offering courses in agricultural, mechanical, and industrial subjects, but few offered college-
level courses and degrees.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson established a "separate but equal" doctrine
in public education. The decision validated racially dual public elementary and secondary school systems.
Plessy also encouraged black colleges to focus on teacher training to provide a pool of instructors for
segregated schools. The subsequent expansion of black secondary schools reduced the need for black
colleges to provide college preparatory instruction.
Source: JBHE Chronology of Major Landmarks in the Progress of African Americans in Higher Education.
Retrieved from https://www.jbhe.com/chronology/
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States. Retrieved from
Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Higher Education Desegregation. U.S. Department of Education.
Office for Civil Rights. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq9511.html
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 7
The two primary engines of HBCU growth in the South were the American Missionary Association (AMA)
and the Freedman’s Bureau. Chiefly sponsored by the Congregationalist churches in New England, the
AMA partnered in numerous ways to establish historically black colleges and normal schools.
In all, the
AMA founded more than five hundred schools and colleges for the freedmen of the South during and after
the Civil War, spending more money for that purpose than the federally-funded Freedman's Bureau (Drake,
1957, p. 198). In addition, the AMA organized the Freedmen's Aid Society, which recruited northern
teachers for the schools and arranged to find housing for them in the South.
The demand for higher education after the Civil War was partially driven by the burgeoning need for
primary school teachers in the African American community. Prior to the Civil War, no southern state had
a system of universal, state-supported public education and prohibited slaves and free blacks from gaining
education. When schools for freed people opened in early 1865, they were crowded to overflowing. Within
a year of black freedom, at least 8,000 former slaves were attending schools in Georgia. Eight years later,
black schools struggled to contain nearly 20,000 students (Butchart, 2016). Despite inadequate funding,
enrollment in Virginia's black schools rose steadily from the opening of the first schools in Alexandria in
1861 to 1870, when the Freedmen's Bureau ceased operations in Virginia and other states. By 1866, nearly
12,000 students were attending schools across the state. By 1868, 19,000 were enrolled. By 1870, the total
was nearly 33,000 (Butchart, 2017). This demand was partially filled through the creation of normal schools
throughout the North and South.
Approximately 600 teachers served in Georgia's freedmen's schools during Reconstruction. An estimated
one-fifth were native Georgians, including nearly fifty white Georgians. Approximately 25 percent were
African Americans. The majority of the black teachers were Georgians, while others hailed from the
seaboard South, along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Although local
teachers seldom had completed high school, many of the northern freedmen's teachers had graduated from
post-secondary institutions, including Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Yale University in
Connecticut, Oberlin College in Ohio, and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. The black teachers
had attended such colleges as Oberlin, Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Lincoln University in
Pennsylvania (Butchart, 1980).
The Lincoln Normal Institute
To reduce white antagonism toward black instruction, the Alabama state legislature replaced teachers
installed by the Freedmen's Bureau, many of them non-southerners, with southern teachers. Since these
locals needed training, the state established "normal schools" for the purpose of educating black teachers,
with assistance from the American Missionary Association (Lindsay and Lindsay, 1942).
As a case study, the Lincoln Normal Institute gives us great insight into the mechanics of the local normal
school movement, geared to produce local teachers after the Civil War. In July, 1867, Alexander H. Curtis,
a former slave and only black selected to preside over the Alabama State Senate in the 19th century, along
with eight other former slaves, a handful of prominent Perry County whites and the American Missionary
Association, founded the Lincoln School in Marion, Alabama. The Lincoln School ultimately became the
Specifically, Howard University, Berea College, Hampton Institute, Atlanta University, Fisk University, Straight
(now Dillard) University, Tougaloo College, Talladega College, LeMoyne (now LeMoyne-Owen) College, Tillotson
(now Huston-Tillotson) College and Avery Institute (now part of the College of Charleston).
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 8
Alabama State Lincoln Normal School and University, the first state-sponsored liberal arts institution for
the higher education of blacks in the U.S.
A politically neutral white from the North served as Lincoln’s first president, and the trustee board was
racially mixed. Trustees Alexander Curtis and John Dozier were African Americans who moved well in
any cultural, political or social circle. Southern whites John Foster and John Sears were liberal Republicans
who supported universal equality. Fellow southern whites John Harris and Joseph Speed were socially
conservative Republicans who altered their political positions to fit the given situation. Porter King, one of
the Black Belt’s wealthiest citizens and the only Democrat on the board, was a sociopolitical moderate who
once owned the land on which Lincoln sat.
From its inception 1870 until 1872, the Lincoln Normal School amassed an impressive record. Graduates
taught at black primary schools throughout the state. Unlike many black teachers in the South, white
education administrators in Alabama and other southern states commended Lincoln graduates for their
competency. The Alabama Education Board decided in early 1870 to replace black members of Lincoln’s
board of trustees with whites. However, blacks fought the state government and any other predominantly
white body’s effort to control Lincoln. However, Curtis, doubted that the school would ever become a
college or university without state support.
Lincoln had three departments: primary, normal and university. Basic liberal arts courses were taught in
the primary department. Advanced liberal arts courses and pedagogy were taught in the normal and
university departments. The president and trustees’ principal task was to make sure that students were
provided the same liberal arts coursework that white students received at the University of Alabama in
Tuscaloosa. Lincoln was Alabama’s premier public black education institution. It continued to thrive into
the early 1880s, when it was moved to Montgomery and ultimately became Alabama State University
See “An Act to Establish a State Normal School and University for the Education of Colored Teachers and
Students,” in Acts of the Board of Education of the State of Alabama (Montgomery, 1874), 16-19.
Alabama Department of Education, Report of John M. McKleroy, p.32.
“An Act for the Establishment of Normal Schools,” in Alabama Department of Education, Journal of the board of
Education and the Board of Regents for the State of Alabama, 1871 (Montgomery, 1871), p. 39. (hereafter cited as
1871 Education and Regents Board Journal).
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 9
One might question, why the northern, historically white schools did not do more to help absorb a larger
percent of black students, given the growth in demand after 1870 and their more stable funding structures.
The reasons are unclear. However, the author surmises that the northern schools did not prepared to make
the structural and cultural adjustments that would have been required to serve the rudimentary needs of the
Historically Black Colleges and Universities in South Carolina
The Reconstuction Era ushered in the rapid growth of private black institutions of higher education. There
was an urgency to educate the recently emancipated 412,320 slaves across the state. South Carolina lacked
a public educational structure for either its black or its white citizens. It is ironic that the first public school
system was devised by a committee chaired by F.L. Cardoza, a black man, and the state’s first African
American Secretary of State.
There are eight historically black colleges and universities in South Carolina. Allen University, Benedict
College and Claflin University were founded during reconstruction. Shortly after its inception, Allen’s
programs ranged from elementary, normal school, a college curriculum and a law school. Its primary goal
was to teach ministers for the African Methodist Episcopal church and teachers for the newly established
state system of public education. Other colleges include Clinton College, Denmark Technical College,
Morris College, South Carolina State College and Voorhees College. All the schools are privately funded
except for South Carolina State College, which is a “1890 Morrill Act” land grant school. Most of these
institutions were established to support the newly-freed slaves during reconstruction. Therefore, it was
typical for most to have been initially operated as normal schools serving multiple levels of needs from
literacy to law instruction.
Combined, the schools currently pump an estimated $270 million in expenditures annually into the South
Carolina state economy. These expenditures include salaries, the purchase of goods and services and fees.
However, as with many HBCUs, the sustainability of the schools is questionable. Five of the eight schools
McMillan, L.K. (1952). Negro Higher Education in the State of South Carolina. Orangeburg, SC: South Carolina
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 10
experienced net losses in their latest financial reporting year (i.e., 63 percent). See Appendix 2 for more
Despite their illustrious history, the state’s HBCUs are currently at risk. In most cases their enrollment is
down as they struggle to compete with public college across the state. There are a number of factors that
mitigate against the competitiveness of the state’s HBCUs:
1) The larger state schools (e.g., University of South Carolina and Clemson University), offer better
financial aid packages;
2) The better funded, predominantly white institutions (PWI), both public and private, tend to offer a
wider choice of course offerings;
3) There is a more substantial social life at these schools; and
4) Alumni have not accumulated the wealth of their white counterparts nor have they adopted similar
It is interesting to note that 46 percent of last year’s 3,559-student student body at Francis Marion
University, a historically white state institution of higher education, is African American. Similarly, the
African American population at Winthrop University makes up 28 percent of the student body.
The closing of historically black schools in South Carolina is not a new phenomenon. Across the state,
approximately 13 historically black junior colleges and normal schools have closed since 1926 and as
recently as 1981. These schools closed for numerous reasons. In the case of the Mayesville Institute, the
school was unable to obtain complete community buy-into to the schools industrial mission. Although the
reported enrollment averaged approximately 425 students, there was a 65 percent dropout rate after the first
year according to a 1920 Commission of Labor report. Trade instruction, a core component of the industrial
curriculum, was often viewed as limited by students. In general, schools for African Americans were not
comparable to their white counterparts. Secondly, the school administration underestimated the extent of
racism and discrimination in South Carolina. The social and political attitudes of local society were not as
conducive to their students’ progression as administrators had envisioned and opposition to employing the
schools graduates became a major focus. The Mayesville Institute’s experiences was not unusual across the
Knowledge Strategies and Progressive Politics
The role of classical training and higher education in general, as opposed to an increased emphasis on
vocational education for African Americans, was an important debate at the end of the 19th century. Some
scholars have integrated that story into a broader conspiracy narrative, whereby Southern white power
structures sought to check black progress and maintain a racialized labor force by providing industrial
training. Meanwhile, African American industrial school advocates resigned themselves to the racial crisis
either by accommodating the white supremacist vision or by shifting to utilitarian and economic goals and
targeting the “masses” (e.g., Booker T. Washington) over the “Talented Tenth” (e.g., W.E.B. DuBois)
Many African American intellectuals and political activists saw Booker T. Washington’s vision of
industrial or vocational education as a “way of appeasing whites who felt that blacks should be manual
Datiri, D.H. Saving grace: Educating African American Children through industrial education in Mayesville.
Retrieved at http://www.southcarolinahistoricalsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Fall-2013-Mayesville-
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 11
laborers and not strive for high intellectual achievement” (Kelly and Lewis, 2005). Levy (2016) suggests
that the meaning that black leaders assigned to “intellect and intellectual training” was destabilized during
the last two decades of the 19th century, as it was a moment of massive social, economic and political
upheaval for African Americans. The resolution many black leaders found for this destabilization came in
new modes of intellectual and spiritual cultivation intended to support the establishment of a “pragmatic
black consciousness,” elevating the importance of a “progressive education,” which would be inclusive of
a vocational pedagogy. The development of a Pragmatic Black Consciousness was tied to new strategies
for black empowerment which emphasized autonomy and race consciousness.
According to social activist, Alexander Crummell, black worker consciousness also required what he called
“intelligent labor.” In distinguishing simple work from intelligent labor, he noted that there were “two ways
of knowing things in this world”:
“The one is to know them in a crude, blind, uninformed and mechanical manner,
i.e., by the senses merely and the bodily powers…the other…is the apprehension
of principles and essences…the seeing into the very life of things…” (Crummell,
Crummell spoke to working-class issues in both the North and South. However, in 1881, he saw special
dangers in trends such as the obstruction of black land ownership which forced black laborers into service
and threatened to create their permanent status as “a humble tiller of the soil.” To protect against such
economic abuses required an empowering of black farmers and workers through instilling a new
consciousness and better thinking. Thus, he identified a new skill-based, work-informed concept of
intelligent labor that “knows its own value and contends for it” (Crummell, 1995). Such ideas informed
progressive black thought and were often used in defense of industrial education.
At the other end of the spectrum, Levy (2016, p. 51) notes that “traditional higher education, whether
classical, theological, or any other mode dependent on white cultural norms and white money, implied its
own dependence and possibly with it a dependent, inauthentic consciousness, a race-alienated self, even
among the best-educated.”
Black newspaper editor and publisher of the New York Globe, T. Thomas Fortune, reiterates this concern
regarding the failure of higher education at the end of the 19th century. “The multiplication of colleges and
academies for the ‘high education of colored youth,” Fortune observed as, “one of the most striking
phenomena of the times…as if theology and classics were the things best suited” for a race facing crisis,
with dangerously low levels of literacy and faltering common schools. To farmers and workers, theology
and classics were “unequivocable abstractions.” Fortune went on to note that “what the colored boy, what
all boys of the country need, is industrial not ornamental education” (Fortune, 2007).
Many black educators rejected not only white domination of black workers but also intellectual training
based on white culture and values. This form of black intellectual nationalism often served as part of the
rationale for African American industrial schooling. Whereas, many black progressives saw an industrial
education as a legitimate path to African American empowerment, the white nationalist superstructure saw
an opportunity to solidify the new Jim Crow order with a strict focus on vocational training. For example,
Henry Baldwin, Jr., Harvard graduate and railroad entrepreneur suggested that black workers “leave politics
alone...continue to be patient…live simply…learn to work and…learn that it is a mistake to be educated
out of your environment.”
George Winston, President of the North Carolina College of Agricultural and
Proceedings of the Second Capon Springs Conference, p. 74. Quoted in Bullock, A History of Negro Education,
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 12
Mechanic Arts noted that blacks “must be taught to work…submit to authority…and respect their
W.E.B. DuBois warned of the risk of racial prejudice incurred by a newly trained black labor force as it
moves into an emerging industrial society. “Negro professional men, teachers, physicians and artists come
very seldom in competition with the whites. But farmers, masons, painters, carpenters, seamstresses and
shoe repairers work at the same work as whites and largely under like conditions. This completion
accentuates race prejudice.”
Levy (2016) suggests a reframing of the Du Bois – Washington debate as a struggle between two visions
of industrial education rather than between industrial and classical, is in order. In his publication, The Negro
Artisan, Du Bois explored the theoretical aspects of the “manual training” model, as distinct from trades or
rudimentary vocational education. He suggests that engagement with objects facilitates deep cognitive
development. The study praised the industrial school model for “rationalizing” Negro ideals, for making
“Negroes think,” for “turning their attention from aspiration to the concrete problem of earning a living,”
and for beginning to integrate hand and head (Du Bois, 1902). Du Bois suggested that there is a case for
both higher education and industrial education and that the contrast drawn between the two was misleading.
There is sort of a false distinction in these matters that has grown up and which does mischief…College
training is supposed to be chiefly ornamental and partly useless…industrial training is accused of confining
itself to purely technical work after a fashion which is simply untrue of any industrial school.
In his essay by the same name, Richard T. Greener sites the “white problem” as “the determination, not
only to treat the Negro as a member of a child-like race, but the grim determination to keep him a child or
a ward” (Greener, 1875). Greener suggested that this perennial paternalistic attitude towards African
Americans enables white Americans to justify their racial prejudice and, unless addressed, will forever lock
the black race into a second class status. The ramifications of this problem include the need to provide
social programs to compensate for the perceived and actual disparities (e.g., economic, educational, health,
rate of incarceration, etc.) between African American and white society.
His experience as an undergraduate at Harvard College exposed him to a set of values and a social ideal
that guided him during his lifetime. The principles of self-determination, social contribution, meritocracy
and intellectual excellence are all part of the culture that Harvard engrains subliminally in its
In his writings, speeches and community activities Greener communicated these values.
Because of his friendships and early interactions with W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, the most
powerful voices in the black progressive movement of the late 19th century, these ideals were imbued in the
values of the post-Reconstruction civil rights movements.
Winston, “Industrial Training in Relation to the Negro Problem,” pp. 103-7. Quoted in Anderson, the Education
of Blacks in the South. P. 85.
Du Bois, W.E.B. Proceedings of the National Negro Conference 1909. Reprint. New York: Arno/New York
Du Bois “The Hampton Idea” (1906) in Aptheker, The Education of Black People, p. 12.
For example, Harvard College’s Dexter Gate, erected in 1901, has two inspirational inscriptions carved into its
stone arch. The outside of the gate reads, “Enter to grow in wisdom,” while the inside bears the message, “Depart to
serve better thy country and thy kind.” Words were provided by, then Harvard President, Charles Elliot.
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 13
W.E.B. Du Bois (1914) suggests a solution to the white problem, as perceived by Greener: “The
responsibility for their own social regeneration ought to be placed largely upon the shoulders of the Negro
people.” But for African Americans to handle this responsibility, they must have the power to do so.
“[R]esponsibility without power is a mockery and a farce. If, therefore, the American people are sincerely
anxious that the Negro shall put forth his best efforts to help himself, they must see to it that he is not
deprived of the freedom and power to strive.” To dispel their own ignorance, the power to overcome
ignorance must be placed in black people’s hands” (Du Bois, 1914).
The growth of African American-controlled institutions of higher education created the promise of control
of which Du Bois spoke. Now, as during the post-Reconstruction period, these colleges and universities are
a critical factor in the education of young African Americans.
Data suggests that, at a minimum, by
attracting so many lower-income students, historically black colleges and universities play a critical role in
promoting upward mobility for poor black students, and thus contribute to closing one of the most persistent
and important gaps between black and white Americans (Chetty et al., 2017). More importantly, the HBCUs
present now, as before, more nurturing environments where African American youth can more easily
examine the limits of their own self-reliance and create a world defined by a new pragmatic black
As we face many of the same social issues now as he did then, Du Bois’ words from more than 100 years
past, seem prophetic with regard to the importance of black colleges and universities in the U.S. today:
“[T]he danger lies in the fact that the best of the Negro colleges are poorly equipped and are to-day losing
support and countenance, and that, unless the nation awakens to its duty, ten years will see the annihilation
of higher Negro training in the South. We need a few strong, well-equipped Negro colleges, and we need
them now, not to-morrow; unless we can have them and have them decently supported, Negro education in
the South, both common-school and industrial, is doomed to failure, and the forces of social regeneration
will be fatally weakened, for the college today among Negroes is, just as truly as it was yesterday among
whites, the beginning and not the end of human training, the foundation and not the cap-stone of popular
education” (Du Bois, 1914).
According to the Brookings Institution, HBCUs account for 20 percent of the black students who complete a
bachelor’s degrees in the U.S.
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 14
Anderson, J. (1988). The education of blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: University of North
Bullock, H.A. (1967). A history of negro education in the South: From 1619 to the present. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Butchart, R.E. (1980). Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen's Education,
1862-1875. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Butchart, R.E. (2016). "Freedmen's Education during Reconstruction." New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Retrieved from http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/freedmens-
Butchart, R.E. (2017). Freedmen's Education in Virginia, 1861–1870. In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved
Chetty, R., Friedman, J., Saez, E., Turner, N. Yagan, D. (2017). Mobility Report Cards: The Role of
Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility. Working paper. Retrieved from http://www.equality-of-
Clark, K.B. (1967). Higher education for Negroes: Challenges and prospects, with a discussion. Journal of
Negro Education. Vol. 36. Pp. 198-199.
Crummell, A. (1995). “Dignity of Labor.” In Civilization and Black Progress, J.R. Oldfied. Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia. Pp. 65 – 78.
Drake, R.B. (1957). The American Missionary Association and the Southern Negro, 1861-1888"
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Emory University.
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1914). The training of Negroes for social reform. In Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, ed.,
Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: The Best Speeches Delivered by the Negro from the days of Slavery
to the Present Time. P-. 492 – 504. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22240/22240-
Du Bois, W.E.B., ed. (1902). The negro artisan: A social study. Atlanta University Publication No. 7.
Atlanta: Atlanta University Press.
Fortune, T.T. (2007). Black and white: Land, labor and politics in the South. Reprint. New York:
Washington Square Press.
Greener, R.T. (1875). The white problem. In E.E. Hale (Ed.), Lend a hand. A Record of progress. Vol.
XII. January - June, 1894. Boston: J. Stilman Smith & Company. Pp. 354-367. Retrieved from
Ireland, C. (2012). Blue, gray, and Crimson: 150 years later, the Civil War echoes across Harvard. The
Harvard Gazette. March 21, 2012. Retrieved from
Kelly, R. & Lewis, E., eds. (2005). To make our world anew: A history of African Americans from 1880.
Vol. 2. New York: Oxford University Press.
Levy, J. (2016). Forging African American minds: Black pragmatism, “intelligent labor,” and a new look at
industrial education. American Nineteenth Century History. Vol. 17, No.1, 43 – 73.
Lindsay, T.B. & Lindsay, J.A. (1942). Some light upon ante-bellum Alabama schools. Peabody Journal of
Education Vol. 20, pp.37-41.
Mounter, M.R. (2002). Richard Theodore Greener: The idealist, statesman, scholar and South
Carolinian. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of South Carolina, Thomas Cooper
Library, Columbia, SC.
Nussbaum, M.C. (1997). Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp.156-7
Wilcox, M.E. (1894). Anniversary exercises: Lincoln Normal Institute, Marion, Ala. American
Missionary, Vol,. 48 (September 1894): 318-19.
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 15
Chronology of African Americans in Historically White Colleges Before 1877
Alexander Lucius Twilight receives bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont,
becoming the first African American to earn a college degree in the U.S.
Edward Jones graduates from Amherst College. Two weeks later, John Brown Russwurm graduates
from Bowdoin College in Maine.
Edward Mitchell graduates from Dartmouth College.
Isaiah G. DeGrasse receives a bachelor’s degree from Newark College (now the University of
Delaware), the first African American to graduate from a flagship state university.
Samuel Ford McGill of Monrovia, Liberia, graduates from Dartmouth Medical School.
Oberlin College graduates its first black student, George B. Vashon, who became a founding professor
at Howard University.
David J. Peck receives his M.D. from Rush Medical College in Chicago. He practiced in Philadelphia
and later in Nicaragua.
Charles L. Reason is named professor of belles-lettres, Greek, Latin and French at New York Central
College in McGrawville, New York and is the first African American to teach at a mixed race
institution of higher education in the U.S.
Lucy Ann Stanton, a black woman, receives a certificate in literature from Oberlin College. She is a
graduate of the college but did not receive a bachelor’s degree.
Harvard Medical School accepts its first three black students, one of whom was Martin Delany.
Harvard later rescinds the invitations due to pressure from white students.
Richard Henry Green is the first African American to graduate from Yale College. Cortlandt Van
Rensselaer Creed graduates from the Yale School of Medicine.
Mary Jane Patterson, a teacher, graduates with a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College. She is
considered the first African-American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree.
The first black female medical student, Rebecca Lee, graduates from the New England Female
George Lewis Ruffin is the first black to earn a degree from Harvard Law School. In 1883 Ruffin
became Massachusetts’ first African-American judge.
Harvard awards its first degree in dentistry to Robert Tanner Freeman.
Harvard College graduates its first black student, Richard Theodore Greener, who pursues a career as
an educator, lawyer and US diplomat. After Harvard, Greener joins University of South Carolina, as
first black faculty of a flagship state university.
George F. Grant graduates Harvard with a degree of dentistry. He later serves as its first black
instructor at the dental school from 1878 to 1889.
John Henry Conyers is the first black student to enter the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. A year
later he resigned after having academic troubles.
Edward Bouchet, son of a university janitor, graduates summa cum laude from Yale College.
Edward Bouchet was the first black to earn a Ph.D. at an American university, receiving his doctorate
in physics from Yale.
Henry Ossian Flipper, a former slave, was the first black man to graduate from West Point.
Inman Page, a former slave, elected student body president at Brown University, the first black to
receive such honor at a highest-ranked and predominantly white university.
George Washington Henderson, a student at the University of Vermont, is the first black student
elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society.
Source: Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.jbhe.com/chronology/
Richard T. Greener and the Golden Age of African Americans in Higher Education Page 16