Exploring the 150 Year History of Freed-Hardeman University
In 1950, Freed-Hardeman faced and survived arguably the most difficult challenge in its 150-year history. The year began with 17 inches of rain in January, followed by another six inches during the first two weeks of February. As for President N. B. Hardeman, he suffered shingles beginning in December and continuing into January.
Shingles kept Hardeman from attending the funeral of Ike Roland, who had studied and taught at A.G. Freed’s Essary Springs school, and then directed it following Freed’s departure. Roland came to Henderson to teach in the high school department of Freed-Hardeman in the 1920s. He died January 4. W. Claude Hall preached Roland’s funeral and L.L. Brigance led the prayer. It rained on the day of the funeral, so much so that water had to be dipped from the grave before the casket could be lowered.
Shortly after Roland’s funeral, Brigance, friend and supporter of Hardeman, contracted the flu. Four weeks later, Brigance died. Hardeman was in Florida preaching in a gospel meeting. Long-time friends and colleagues of Brigance, W.C. Hall and C.P. Roland, conducted his funeral.
As if disease and death were not bad enough, more trouble was brewing. What began as a seemingly small matter soon mushroomed into a full-blown crisis. President Hardeman had always been a strict disciplinarian, and he sometimes addressed disciplinary matters during chapel.
The times and the make-up of the student body had changed. Male students tended to be older, some of them veterans of World War II. Students were outraged by the president’s handling of student discipline, and eventually, the conflict reached a boiling point.
Students organized and chose leaders to represent them. They wrote letters to members of the Board of Trustees urging them to come to campus. And, they skipped classes. On one Tuesday, more than 250 students, out of an enrollment of approximately 385, refused to go to class. The “strikers” intended to stay out of class until the board came to campus and addressed the matter. A majority of the students now wanted a change in the college’s leadership.
The board came to campus. As their meeting continued into the night, a student rang the bell atop the building (now known as Old Main), calling students to assemble. Approximately 300 students answered the call by coming to Chapel Hall where they “staged an all-night ‘sit-it-out.’” The board ended their meeting at 5 a.m., went to Chapel Hall and spoke to the students who then left at 7 a.m.
Conflict continued to simmer beneath the surface and boiled over again in April. Ultimately, President Hardeman decided to leave at the end of the school year. He taught his classes for the remainder of the term, spoke briefly at graduation in Chapel Hall and left the building. The Hardeman era at FHC was over, but his legacy lives on in the school he built.
Information and quotations are taken from Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.” It is available for purchase for $30 plus tax in the FHU Office of Academics, which is located in Loyd 107.