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Effort underway to turn Brownwood's only black school into museum

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BROWNWOOD, Texas - The Rufus F. Hardin School closed after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but now an effort is underway to turn Brownwood's only black school into a museum.

"In 1957, that's when they integrated," Marian Thomas said on Friday. She attended the school up until sixth grade.

"We ended up going to the junior high school. The most frightening time of my life is leaving something that I was comfortable with, to the unknown," Thomas said.

The school, which taught students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, was founded by George Smith, a former slave in Virginia who fought in the U.S. Civil War.

After his military service, he began teaching black children inside homes and churches in Brownwood. It wasn't until 1917 that the school received its permanent home inside a building located between Almond and Hall streets. Smith didn't get to see that transition, he died in 1912.

The high school closed a year after the U.S. Supreme Court desegregated public schools in 1954.

"We were not segregated, but we were segregated," Thomas said.

The elementary school remain opened until 1966 when they were forced to close and integrate to comply with the Civil Rights Act.

Ella B. Jones, 83, and her children attended Hardin.

"One was in seventh grade and one was in the eighth grade," she said. "They had a hard time at first."

She said they struggled with being bullied because of the color of their skin, but despite the racial strife, Thomas isn't bitter.

"We're going to have to learn to love one another," Jones said. "No matter if you're black, white, green, or polka dot, we're going to have to have patience with one another."

Thomas credits her teachers at the integrated Brownwood High School for pushing her to succeed.

The Rufus F. Hardin School became a Texas historical landmark in 2009.

Organizers need to raise $350,000 to restore the building into a museum. Donations can be made out to Rufus F. Hardin Museum, Inc., P.O. Box 1968, Brownwood, Texas 76804.

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