For over 150 years, Edward Bouchet has been heralded as the first African-American to graduate from Yale College — a distinguishing honor that led him to become a highly celebrated pioneer.
Photos of him are plastered in the school hallways while seminars, lectures and awards have been named in his honor.
However, a new discovery has proven that the canonization of Bouchet’s prominent status was premature.
According to newly uncovered documents, the first black graduate from Yale was in fact a man named Richard Henry Green.
The 95 records obtained by Rick Stattler, an Americana specialist at Swann Auction Galleries in New York, show that Green was enrolled at Yale in 1853 and graduated in 1857 — 17 years prior to Bouchet receiving his diploma.
Among those records is a collection of family papers, letters addressed to Green and receipts.
“I just kept digging and did find one reference to [Green] from his lifetime in a publication that said he was the first colored graduate of Yale,” Stattler told theGrio.”So I figured it wasn’t a complete fluke at least and found it in the census records where he was listed as black or mulatto and everything else seemed to check out,” he added.
The census records were those taken in 1850, 1860 and 1870 — which listed Green as “mulatto,” black and white, respectively.
The inconsistency in the Census recording could be attributed to a number of reasons, Stattler said.
“Census records are not very scientific and during that time it would be typical for the census taker to show up at the door and make their own judgment as to the race of the person they’re counting,” Stattler said. “It’s not at all unusual for someone to be black in one census or mulatto in another.”
Another possibility could have been that the census taker arrived at Green’s door and was met by his wife, who was white — and assumed that Green was white as well.
According to The New York Times, Green earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1857 and went on to become a teacher and later studied medicine at Dartmouth. He served in the Navy from 1863 until the end of the Civil War and throughout that time, married his wife and had a daughter named Charlotte.
Green’s father was a bootmaker – a common profession of African-American tradesmen at the time in New Haven, the Yale Alumni Magazine notes. Green later passed away in 1877 at the age of 43 due to what his obituary described as a “disease of the heart.”
Among the uncovered letters that were found, was one from a woman in Connecticut who was grateful for Green and the medical attention he provided during her pregnancy.
“She thanked him for the ‘delicate and brotherly attention shown to me at Ports Smith, I felt a confidence in you which I did not entertain to any physician near us,'” Stattler quoted.
“Take with you a few bones to illustrate physiology if you can,” wrote a man in New Hampshire in a separate letter, who was offering Green a position as a private tutor to his children.
While Green may have been lost from Yale history for over a century, Stattler’s research resurfaced new details that have since been confirmed by Yale officials.
“It’s really a great pleasure to add another local hero to the roster,” Judith Schiff, Yale’s chief research archivist, told theGrio.
However, despite the new discovery, it is unlikely that Bouchet’s impact and contributions to the college will be overshadowed in any way.
Bouchet graduated sixth in his class and went on to become the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. He was reportedly hailed and recognized by his peers at the time as an important figure – and he will continue to be celebrated as inspirational pioneer, school officials say.
Stattler said: “Bouchet was an important figure not because he was just a pioneer but for numerous reasons – and he made a more of a mark in history than Green did.”
Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works