The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that it has acquired the 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masonic certificate of Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), the prominent African American attorney, educator, diplomat, and Freemason. Among his many accomplishments, Greener was the first African American graduate of Harvard College, the dean of Howard University’s School of Law, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and the first U.S. Consul to Vladivostok, Russia.
The 33rd degree certificate was among many Greener documents discovered in 2009 in the attic of an abandoned house in Chicago by a cleanout crew preparing it for demolition. Along with the 33rd degree certificate, documents found in 2009 included Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma (now in Harvard’s collection) as well as his law degree from the University of South Carolina and his license to practice law in South Carolina (now both at the University of South Carolina). Historians have greeted the discovery of the Greener documents – long thought lost – with much excitement. Greener’s Masonic certificate gives us a glimpse into his activities while he was in Chicago in 1896 working for the National Republican Committee’s presidential campaign efforts.
Greener was active in Freemasonry as early as 1876, as evidenced by a Masonic speech he gave which was published that year, An Oration Pronounced at the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Baptist, June 24, 1876: At the Invitation of Eureka Lodge No. 1, F.A.M., in the Savannah Georgia Theatre. Twenty years later, on September 8, 1896, the United Supreme Council of the 33d Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdictions of the United States – a Scottish Rite group formed by black Chicago lawyer John G. Jones and others in 1895 – elevated Greener to the 33rd degree in their Council. (Although Jones suffers from a negative reputation within Freemasonry today, he was an activist and lawyer who fought against segregation, served in the Illinois Legislature, and was the eighth African American admitted to the Illinois bar.) The date of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate coincides with his arrival in Chicago and his involvement with the National Republican Committee’s National Colored Bureau in the 1896 presidential campaign for Republican nominee William McKinley. Within the United Supreme Council, Greener served as Jones’ second-in-command, holding the office of Lieutenant Grand Commander in 1896 and 1897. Greener was also a Shriner and held office in the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the black Masonic organization established by Jones in Chicago in 1893 during a time when the predominantly white Shriners excluded African Americans as members. The acquisition of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate strengthens the Museum & Library’s holdings related to African American fraternalism and helps tell the larger story of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States.
33° Certificate issued to Richard Theodore Greener, 1896, United Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdiction of the United States, Washington, D.C. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2016/001.
Schomburg General Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "R. T. Greener" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 13, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-72f8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99