Edward Bouchet 1876 has long been thought to be Yale’s first African-American graduate. But newly discovered documents show that the distinction may in fact belong to an earlier alumnus.
According to an article published today in the Yale Alumni Magazine, that man is in fact Richard Henry Green 1857. A New Haven native — he was born to a local bootmaker in 1833 — Green was admitted to Yale in 1853 and graduated in 1857.
Green went on to teach at the Bennington Seminary in Vermont and study medicine at Dartmouth before serving in the Navy from 1863 to 1865.
The discovery was made by Rick Stattler of the Swann Auction Galleries in New York. Stattler found Green when examining his family’s papers, which are scheduled to be auctioned in April.
Yale’s records do not mention his race, but an 1850 census listed him as “mulatto” while in 1860 he was recorded as “black.”
It appears that Green was quickly forgotten by Yale as well. When Bouchet arrived on campus years after Green, he was celebrated as a pioneer.
Judith Schiff, Yale’s chief research archivist, told the New York Times that “a campus periodical at the time talks about [Bouchet] coming as the first [African-American].”
“[Green] certainly didn’t stand out as a landmark person,” Schiff said.
Green died in 1877 at the age of 43.
University Spokesman Tom Conroy told the New York Times that the discovery will not change how Yale regards Bouchet, as a pioneer for Yale.