On what would have been his 173rd birthday, the University of South Carolina unveiled a rendition of a planned statue honoring the school’s first black professor.
The school plans to honor Richard T. Greener with a statue outside its Thomas Cooper Library. On Monday, USC celebrated a historical figure who thwarted the prevailing racial politics of the Reconstruction era with cake and birthday wishes.
Greener arrived in South Carolina when he was 29 years old, as the first black student to earn a degree from Harvard. When he accepted the professorship at USC, Greener taught moral philosophy and helped run the Carolinana Library. While teaching, Greener also took law classes and became the law school’s first back graduate.
But during Greener’s many ‘firsts’ in teaching at USC from 1873-1877, white segregationists came back into power in South Carolina and told Greener to leave his post as faculty. USC became an all-white school in 1880 and did not desegregate again until 1963.
USC previewed its future statue by unveiling a model on Monday. African American Studies professor Bobby Donaldson spoke at the ceremony and said the statue honors Greener, but also recognizes the troubled past of racism in the South, “by coming to terms with the complicated, diverging, sometimes disturbing all to honest and needed version of history of who we are as an institution, and who we are as a nation.”
Education professor Christian Anderson spearheaded the effort to build the statue seven years ago. Anderson says the statue will cost $250,000 but he refuses to let it rest as merely a piece of art.
“We are also raising $100,000 for an endowment that we will be able to use for annual programming,” he said. “We don’t want this to just be a statue that just stands outside the library. We want it to be a living memorial that goes on every year with some kind of programming.”
A portrait of Richard Greener welcomes any visitor to USC President Harris Pastides’ office. Pastides said the portrait struck him with inspiration before he even knew the history of its subject. Once he learned about Greener’s legacy, Pastides said he could not accept a delay in erecting some kind of monument for the University’s first black faculty member.
“I believe this beautiful statue will finally bring Richard T. Greener out of exile, for once and for all, and home,” said Pasides at the unveiling.
The eight-foot statue will stand outside of the Thomas Cooper Library. USC expects the statue to be completed by this fall.