To begin school at the age of 13, Rufus Forley Hardin was not a likely candidate to fall in love with education, but that is exactly what happened. He went on to become the first salaried African American teacher in Canton, Texas, eventually earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This man proved learning was for all, and strove throughout his life to teach the youth in his communities.
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Born on August 24, 1857, as a slave in Kaufman County, Hardin’s first classroom experience was at 13 years old. When he was 20, he taught school in the Wynne Community, within Van Zandt County, then in 1896, went to work as a teacher in the Brownwood Colored School. He then earned a Bachelor of Arts from what is now Prairie View A&M University, and in 1903, a Masters of Arts. Hardin became the school’s third principal and led the efforts to construct a new building for the school in 1917. A leader in the Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Hardin was a member of the Masonic Lodge and helped to build homes, encouraging families to inhabit the area. He also utilized his summers to farm and work his land.
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Hardin served in education for 56 years. A stroke forced him into retirement in 1934. In the same year, the school was named the Rufus F. Hardin High School, then in 1966, renamed Rufus F. Hardin Elementary. Although the school closed in 1970, efforts are ongoing to preserve the beautiful stone building as the Rufus F. Hardin Museum. Hardin died on July 3, 1949, at the age of 90, and he is buried in Brownwood in the Greenleaf Cemetery. A Texas Historical Marker stands outside the former school as a memorial to this pioneer mentor of Brown County.