Gene Deason

Brown County and much of the rest of the area holds an amazing amount of history, and residents continue to be busy documenting, recording and preserving it. The efforts of supporters of facilities like the Brown County Museum of History have been supplemented by groups that have given birth to the Firearms Museum of Texas, the Great State of Texas Historical Transportation Complex and the Blanket Historical Museum. Plans continue to develop for the Rufus F. Hardin Museum, the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions, the Camp Bowie Memorial and facilities in Zephyr.

The Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom, one of the most popular destinations for tourists if not local residents, has a museum component of its own, in addition to its educational mission as part of Howard Payne University.

The importance of looking back, as such museums allow us to do, was not forgotten at last weekendís Rufus F. Hardin Museum banquet. It was the 10th anniversary of this annual celebration, but those attending seemed to be more prepared than ever before to charge forward as opposed to use the opportunity to look back.

Several of those who spoke at the banquet used the occasion to observe some ironic consequences of what most Americans, including those present, consider progress. Legislative and judicial actions that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s in particular paved the way for integration and an end to the discrimination experienced by nonwhites in the quality of their public school education and treatment in the eyes of the law. Most Americans can applaud that, although the transition was anything but smooth.

Many of us remember the violence of the 1960s as these changes began to take effect. Not so many of us were as deeply affected by the change as were Bishop Aaron Blake, who in junior high school found himself going to school in a strange and, relatively speaking, distant classroom. The change was magnified because he had spent six years going to school in a place where his teachers knew his family and went to church with him and his classmates. Suddenly, his teachers didnít know him, didnít know his family and he didnít know them. Those reflections, and other humorous ones related by Blake about the innocent antics he and his friends pulled and the caring supervision their parents and teachers provided, underlined the importance Hardin School played in the lives of a significant number of Brownwood residents.

But the future is where the Hardin banquet was pointing, and those speakers also emphasized the importance of preserving what they can of the Hardin legacy. The building, which is on the verge of deteriorating beyond repair in a few years if the campaign is not successful, is a noble symbol. The memories will remain, and the lessons learned there by children will continue to be passed along to the next generation by caring people.

Some of those lessons spilled over into Saturday nightís program.

Master of ceremonies Douglas Boone Jr. remarked that he would have never imagined that in his lifetime, an African-American would emerge as a serious candidate for the nationís highest office. And regardless of your politics, that fact truly is amazing when reflecting on the condition of our society when both Boone and I were youngsters.

The condition of our society today was examined both by Boone and by the banquet speaker, Gloria Reed Austin of Fort Worth, when they criticized entertainers who use their fame and their talents to denigrate women and their role in society and promote violence against others. The attitudes of too many members of the next generation are being formed not by loving teachers leading classes at places like Hardin School used to be, but by supposed entertainers whose poison is being consumed not as a diversion but as a role model for life.

Preserving history for historyís sake is fine as far as it goes, but it becomes crucial when the process is used to identify and retain the best of what has gone before. When that happens, looking back is truly the best way to look ahead.

Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.deason@brownwoodbulletin.com.