Exploring the 150 Year History of Freed-Hardeman University
With the impending departure of President N.B. Hardeman, Freed-Hardeman University’s Board of Trustees began to search for a new school leader. Their search focused on respected gospel preachers. A hundred miles away, they found what they were looking for.
Trustees unanimously chose H.A. Dixon, minister of the Poplar Street congregation in Florence, Ala., in May 1950. Earlier in his career, he had preached at the Highland Avenue church in Jackson and taught sight-singing at FHU. He also had spoken during the January special courses and taught as a substitute in Hardeman’s Bible classes when he was away from campus. Dixon was well known by the trustees and respected by members of the church, but he had never been a school administrator.
Dixon planned to teach Bible courses himself, but he also sought a replacement for L.L. Brigance. “We are determined that the Bible department will again be the outstanding feature of our work,” he said. FHC would continue to train gospel preachers and prepare its students for senior college work. “The academic part of our work will not be incidental in our plans,” he said. He intended to instill an atmosphere of Christian discipline in a school that would be characterized by “peace, order and tranquility.”
Three members of the staff who had resigned, W.A. Bradfield, E. Claude Gardner and M.K. Moody, changed their minds and agreed to remain on the faculty. For his part, Bradfield launched a public relations campaign urging supporters to aid the school and help recruit students. “The ideals and objectives of Freed-Hardeman College must be preserved,” he said. “This school cannot, must not and shall not die.”
Alumni and students pledged their support and expressed their belief that the school would not only survive but also thrive. From the announcement of Dixon’s presidency in the spring until the ensuing fall, Bradfield devoted himself to recruiting students. He spoke to alumni groups, urged students from the previous year to return and recruited new students. He also released frequent positive press releases, keeping the name of the school in brotherhood journals.
To enhance the strength of the Bible department, Dixon hired an up and coming alumnus and gospel preacher, Frank Van Dyke. By the end of the summer, Bradfield was predicting a large enrollment for the fall.
The semester opened with 325 students enrolled, admittedly a decrease from the previous fall but definitely an encouraging number given the large number of students who had withdrawn from the school the previous spring. And, over the course of the year, enrollment grew, averaging 400 students over four quarters.
With a tight budget still in place, Gardner suggested faculty “double up” and take on staff responsibilities as well as teach their classes. He, himself, became the registrar and Moody managed the business office in addition to teaching business classes.
It was a year of change. Bradfield had announced that intercollegiate basketball would return on a limited basis. The January special courses became the Freed-Hardeman College Lectureship and two years later the Bible Lectureship. Restrictions on dating were decreased. A Student Council was formed as the administration tried to set a new tone on campus. Dixon maintained strict discipline, but with a different approach, “keeping order without disturbing the peace.”
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.