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Chicago Man Threatens To Burn Rare Documents He Discovered Unless Harvard Pays Him More

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This photo provided by the University of South Carolina shows a portrait of Richard Greener painted by Larry Lebby in 1984. Greener was the first African-American to earn a degree from the University of South Carolina in 1876. (AP Photo/ University of South Carolina, Keith McGraw)
This photo provided by the University of South Carolina shows a portrait of Richard Greener painted by Larry Lebby in 1984. Greener was the first African-American to earn a degree from the University of South Carolina in 1876. (AP Photo/ University of South Carolina, Keith McGraw)

A Chicago man who discovered a number of rare documents that belonged to Richard T. Greener, the first African-American graduate of Harvard University, said the Ivy League school is not offering him enough money to buy them.

So, 52-year-old contractor Rufus McDonald said this week he'll torch them unless they up their price.

"I’ll roast and burn them," McDonald told the Chicago Sun-Times this week, adding that he's "sick and tired of Harvard’s BS."

McDonald found Greener's papers -- including the pioneering intellectual's 1869 Harvard diploma and a certificate written in Russia from when he served as a diplomat -- inside a trunk in the attic of an Englewood home McDonald was clearing for demolition in 2009. It is not known how the papers turned up there.

He told the Chicago Tribune that he had the papers appraised at $65,000 -- markedly more than the $7,500 Harvard originally offered him. A Harvard representative told the paper, however, that offer was made before the papers were appraised and that it offered McDonald considerably more at a later date.

McDonald called the $7,500 offer "a great insult to the African-American community" but backpedalled on his threat to destroy the documents in an interview with WGN (embedded above), saying he was just looking to get the university's attention.

Greener lived out his final days in Hyde Park in Chicago. Prior to that, he was a professor at the University of South Carolina, which already purchased the law diploma Greener earned at USC in 1876 and a second document from McDonald for $52,000.

Greener was the university's first black faculty member and was also one of just 21 black students who earned a diploma from the university before it shuttered in 1877 and reopened as a segregated school three years later.

The diploma is now on public display at the South Caroliniana Library on the USC campus, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1963 desegregation this year and unveiled the diploma this week.

According to a USC bio, Greener was born on January 30, 1844, and passed away in 1922. He is said to have been born to the son of a slave in Philadelphia in 1844, and to have left school at 14 to become a porter at a Boston hotel.

Greener was looked after by a pair of white businessmen who helped him enroll at Harvard in 1865, the Sun-Times previously reported.

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