Chicago, IL – Last year, 52-year-old contractor Rufus McDonald made an amazing discovery in an abandoned and looted Englewood home: The papers of Harvard’s first black graduate, Richard T. Greener. These rare papers, including at least one photograph of Greener, were thought lost to history.
And now, they might become kindling if Harvard doesn’t pony up the bucks for them.
Though McDonald was praised as a hero for his discovery, particularly by President Barack Obama’s friend Professor Henry Louis Gates, he’s willing to toss everything into the fire if he doesn’t get a satisfactory bid from interested parties. Several museums, in addition to Harvard University itself, have thrown in their lot, but nothing they’ve offered so far has satisfied McDonald.
“I’ll roast and burn them,” McDonald boldly proclaimed Tuesday. “It might sound crazy, but people who know me know I’d really do it — I’m sick and tired of Harvard’s BS,” he said, adding that the Ivy League school was trying to take advantage of his discovery of priceless historical documents.
McDonald has already made a nice nest egg on the documents so far. He sold two of the papers to the University of South Carolina for $52,000. The remaining collection includes Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma, which was appraised at $65,000.
Harvard wants the lot for $7,500.
Though a Harvard spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times that they offered McDonald “significantly more” than $7,500, he isn’t budging on his demand. His threat is worrying quite a few historians. University of South Carolina archivist Elizabeth West seems especially concerned.
“To have found them after all these years and then to lose them would be extremely unfortunate,” she said.
I say call his bluff. If McDonald really wants money for the Greener documents, he’ll take any money in the end.