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The Rufus F. Hardin High School
the Rufus F. Hardin Elementary School

Brownwood, Texas

Brown County

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Rufus F. Hardin School, Brownwood, Texas
The Rufus F. Hardin School
Photo courtesy Jason Grant

Founder George Smith

The School's founder, first principal and teacher was Buffalo Soldier George Edward Smith. Born into slavery in Virgina about 1847, Smith managed to escape to Washington, D.C. where he was pressed into service digging trenches for a threatened invasion by Confederate troops. Smith joined the U.S. Army in 1869 and was stationed at Fort Concho (San Angelo) and Fort Davis.

After participating in various campaigns against the Apaches in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Sergeant Smith was discharged at Fort Ringgold in 1874 - his dischage papers showing "excellent character." He re-enlisted in Washington D.C. and was then assigned to the 10th Cavalry - an all-Black Regiment that displayed a Buffalo on their crest - for the name Buffalo Soldiers - given to them by the Cheyenne Indians.

While serving his last months at Fort Concho, he was also serving as an appointed school trustee for "Colored District # 1" of Tom Green County.

After discharge he served as a Deacon in the San Angelo AME Church and was soon appointed an elder (1883). AME Bishop Richard H. Cain was recruiting men of excellent character to organize AME churches where there were none and George Smith went to Brownwood in 1885 to find only one AME Church - but no school for African-American children. He organized classes and taught the children in the basics - wherever a classroom could be found.

George Smith established the Lee Chapel African Methodist Church in Brownwood in 1888 and that same year he married Virginia Love. Together they would have 14 children. Reverend Smith bought land for a home in the Bailey Addition of Brownwood and with the same energy he fought Indians, established churches and taught school, he worked to get water for his neighborhood - dying on the very day (August 9th, 1912) that the project was finished.

Brownwood's George Smith Housing Project has since been named to honor him.

Rufus F. Hardin School entrance, Brownwood, Texas
The Rufus F. Hardin School entrance

Photo courtesy Jason Grant

Educator Rufus F. Hardin 1859-1949

There was only one school for African-Americans in Brown County in 1917 - and while it enjoyed no fixed location, it was this school that was to become the R.F. Hardin High School in 1934.

Rufus Forley Hardin was born a slave in Kaufman County, Texas in 1857. He started school at the age of 13 and four years later he left to work on a cattle drive to Kansas where he attended a Kansas school for eight months. He returned to Texas and enrolled in Sulphur Springs school. At the age of 20 he taught school in Van Zandt County and married Mary Vasher when he was 22.

His initial foray into farming was near Canton, but he later bought land in Kaufman County near Terrell. Hardin accepted a position of teacher with Brownwood Schools in 1896. He earned a BA from Prairie View College and his wife died in 1903 when Rufus was just six weeks from receiving his MA.

While he was farming, he taught school in the winter - and attended classes at several other schools - including Waco's Paul Quinn College and Austin's Tillotson College. In 1905 he married Mary Jane Lasseter - a woman who shared his passion for education.

Hardin was a leader in the Lee Chapel AME Church - the same one founded by George Smith in the 1880s. When funds were low, the Hardins often spent their own money for supplies. Hardin also helped fill the Bailey subdivision by building homes and selling them to responsible families - at affordable terms.

In January of 1934 Mary died and Rufus had a stroke. He was unable to return to teaching - but a remarkable record of 38 years is a fine legacy that few can equal. He died in 1949, at the age of 90, but the school is still standing - and after restoration - it should continue as a memorial to a pioneer educator of Brown County.

Rufus F. Hardin School entrance,  Brownwood, Texas
The Rufus F. Hardin School

Photo courtesy Jason Grant

The Building

While George Smith taught classes in churches and borrowed space - one of the buildings used on the corner of Beaver and Cordell Streets became known as the Cordell School - this was a simple two-teacher school that taught six grades - which later expanded to include grade eight.

In 1910 lots were bought for construction of a proper school for "colored" students but two portable buildings were brought in - in lieu of a permanent structure. In 1917 both buildings burned and classes were once again held in borrowed space - some classes being held in some of Rufus Hardin's rental houses.

In 1916 Brownwood's Coggin School burned and the charred but still usable stone was salvaged to build a proper four-room "Negro School." This was completed in 1917 and consisted of an auditorium and thee classrooms. Lighting and a stage were added in the first year and the building also became a community gathering place.

Rufus F. Hardin School interior Brownwood, Texas
The Rufus F. Hardin School Interior
Photo courtesy Jason Grant

First named Brownwood Colored High School, the school honored it's first five graduates with the Class of 1918.

When Principal and Professor Hardin had his stroke in 1934 and was unable to continue teaching, the school was renamed in his honor. A former student (A.L.Reed) served as principal until D.V. Hall (Class of 1922) was installed. The school expanded to 12 grades in 1947 and became a fully accredited, graduating 13 students that year.

Desegregation in 1954 caused Brownwood to integrate grades 9 through 12 - and overnight, Rufus Hardin High was renamed Rufus Hardin Elementary. In 1966, rather than integrate the elementary grades of Hardin school, the district chose to close the school as a public institution and assigned Hardin students to other Brownwood schools.

Hardin School alumnus
Hardin School alumnus Marrian Barron, Class of 1955
Photo courtesy Jason Grant

In late 1966 the school served as a Project Head Start facility - but this only lasted for four years. In 1970 the doors were shut - and have remained closed until recently when The Rufus F. Hardin Museum Inc. was formed.

The building, eager to begin it's new role as museum is now awaiting restoration and the public is invited to contribute to the project. Willie L. Washington Gay is President of the Rufus F. Hardin Museum.

Rufus F. Hardin School interior, Brownwood, Texas
The Rufus F. Hardin School Interior
Photo courtesy Jason Grant

John Troesser
Photos Jason Grant

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