Richard Greener

University of South Carolina unveiled a statue of its first African-American professor, Richard Greener, on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — South Carolina's flagship university continued efforts to acknowledge more diversity on its 217-year history Wednesday by unveiling a statue of the school's first African-American professor.

The nine-foot bronze statue of Richard Greener between the University of South Carolina's library and student union is meant to inspire the nearly 34,000 students and 1,500 faculty on campus.   

"In each case, and for varying reasons, both Greener and I were and are proud to serve, though the road to our appointments admittedly took a long time," said Todd Shaw, the school's first black head of its political science department during a ceremony that drew more than 400 to the Russell House student union.

Greener, Harvard’s first black graduate, taught philosophy, Latin, Greek and law at USC from 1873-77. The Philadelphia native also worked at the U.S. Treasury Department  and was dean of the Howard University Law School.

"Few people realize that not only was he here on this campus, but he had a tremendous relationship with a lot of the people we talk about in our history books," U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, said after speaking at the the unveiling. "For some reason he never made it into those books. So I think this is a great day and I congratulate the university for having the intestinal fortitude to do this."

USC is working to acknowledge portions of its history not often discussed on campus until recently. The school installed plaques last year describing the role slaves played in building the campus' historic Horseshoe. USC also continues to struggle with some of its racial legacies, such as the Sims dorm named after a doctor considered the father of modern gynecology who performed medical experiments on slaves.

"The fact of the matter is we are having some experiences in our country today because we have not learned the lessons of history," Clyburn said.

When they decided to build $225,000 statue paid through university gifts, USC President Harris Pastides said he asked where was the most heavily trafficked areas of campus. One was near a Wendy's restaurant at Assembly and Greene streets that's a main artery for students. The other was next to the Thomas Cooper Library in the heart of campus, which the administrators chose.

The plaques and Greener statue were outcomes from a 2015 student protest for more recognition of African-American accomplishments on campus.

"I think it's fair to say that few universities or even other organizations anywhere in America have done more to acknowledge the dark moments in their history so that the light of justice can shine bright," Pastides said.

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Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.