Brown County Historical Scrapbook: Rufus Hardin, a pioneer teacher

Ronnie and Donnie Lappe
Special to the Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

Rufus Forley Hardin, fondly known as Professor Hardin to his students and friends, was a pioneer African-American teacher in Brownwood from 1896-1934.

Professor Hardin was born on Aug. 24, 1859, in Kaufman County, Texas. He came to Brownwood in 1896. After his first wife died, he married Mary J. Lasseter on Oct. 28, 1905. Although no children were born to this marriage, the Hardin residence became the home for many children.

During recess early in 1934, a message came to the school that Professor Hardin’s wife, Mary, was near death. He rushed home and arrived three hours before his wife passed away. Professor Hardin had a stroke just about the time he reached Mary’s bedside, and his wife realized what was happening. She said “Now you are down and who is going to take care of you?” Professor Hardin was only given a few days to live. However, he gradually regained his health, but was unable to go back to teaching. He died on July 1, 1949.

Many students remember Professor Hardin’s teaching skills and the ability to maintain order. They said that the students knew better than to misbehave when Professor Hardin was around and that he didn’t have to whip any student for most of his teaching career.

His favorite subject was math. He also knew how to make a good business trade. He purchased a building for $50 that originally was located at 114 E. Lee. The building was moved, and sold for $650.

Professor Hardin encouraged all his students to get an education, and for those he felt would make good educators and leaders for the future, he helped them further their education. Timothy Smith, an educator, said he was one of those who Professor Hardin helped. Hardin encouraged Smith to finish school and then gave him a one-way ticket to the Prairie View School near Houston. Smith got a job and was able to work the six years he attended the school back in the 1920s.

Cecil Holman came to Brownwood in 1925, from Coleman County, to attend the Hardin School. He said he had many fond memories of Professor Hardin, but one he remembered well. In December 1926, Cecil, another boy and two girls decided to play hooky from school and go to an afternoon movie. During their absence from school, one of the girl’s mothers was sitting by a window, sewing, and died. Professor Hardin was called and asked that he tell the girl and bring her home, but he could not find her. By asking around, he learned that four of his students had gone to the movie. Professor Hardin went to the movie theater and got the students. That was the last time Cecil Holman played hooky from school.

The Hardin School, founded by Professor Hardin, eventually became part of the Brownwood School system and continued educating African-American students until desegregation in the early 1960. The building sat vacant for many years. The Hardin Museum, a nonprofit organization, has obtained the original rock building and is trying to restore the building and raise enough funds and exhibits to open a museum. They have been recording oral histories of people who have memories of the school.

There is a display about Professor Hardin at the Brown County Museum of History.