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Autobiograpy of C. Aubrey Hearn

Aubrey Hearn
Aubrey Hearn



Charles Aubrey Hearn

(Written in 1941 as an assignment in English at Peabody College)

According to some contemporary writers the South casts a spell upon its native people. There is a legend that the stars fell on Alabama. As one who was born in that state and who has spent nearly all his life in the South, I can testify to the charm of the Southern region, a charm intangible and not easily defined, but a charm inherent in the region itself, inbred in its people, pervading its very atmosphere.

I adhere to this view, though I am not blind to the faults of the South. I am tolerant of those critics of the South who are not bitter and malicious and whose criticism is constructive.

I was born in Albertville, a small town in one of the best farming areas of Northeast Alabama, on April 6, 1907, the first child in a family of six sons and two daughters. Charles L. Hearn and Della Hubbard Hearn, my parents, are of sturdy Anglo-Saxon ancestry. They are examples of that splendid middle class which comprises the backbone of our country. In my own mind, the home of my parents is glorified. Lessons of honesty, hard work, study, fair play, and church attendance were given by precept and example.

My father had nurtured since early years an ambition to be a doctor. He still held to this desire when married and the father of four children. The family pulled up stakes and moved to Birmingham so Father could attend medical school, while he paid expenses by means of a job in the post office. Shortly after we had become settled in Birmingham the medical school was moved to Tuscaloosa and became part of the University of Alabama. That was the end of Father's dream. He continued working for the government for several years, then followed a business career. Shortly after the first World War we moved back to Albertville.

The life of a normal boy whether in a small town or a city is usually a happy one and this was true in my case. Perhaps I was not as gregarious as the average boy but I had my share of play and fun. I early acquired a love of reading and study and spent much time engaged therein. Wholesome recreation and good reading were encouraged and provided by wise parents.

I inherited the following prejudices or misconceptions, some of them perhaps typically Southern: A suspicion of the Jews, a feeling of superiority over the Negroes, a distrust of Yankees, and a dyed-in-the-wool confidence in Southern ways and patterns of thought. I have largely outgrown these prejudices.

Father was old-fashioned enough to believe that boys should be kept busy. He used to lease land and raise cotton and this kept his sons occupied during the summer months. I had some part in this but escaped most of the rigors of cotton farming. During my first year of high school I secured a job in a printing office, working after school hours. I learned to set type by hand and to run the presses. This I continued throughout high school days and acquired valuable experience in journalism. Since moving to Nashville I have been engaged in editorial work in which my printing experience has proved useful.

In high school my great interests were English, mathematics, debating, history, and football. I remember some of my teachers most gratefully and to their skill and confidence in me I am and shall ever be indebted. I was also interested in speech, then termed "expression," and took private lessons for four years. The school plays, in which I usually had a role, were always interesting to me and gave drama a permanent place in my literary life. In 1923 when I received my high school diploma I was sorry such a happy and profitable phase of my life had come to an end.

I shall add a word here about life in a small town. There is something wholesome and stimulating about it. Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, one of the most powerful novels I have ever read, portrays with intensity life in a small town. But Lewis did not dwell upon the good features of small town life. There are many of them. A small town is like a large family. People are well acquainted and take a personal interest in one another. Life is richer for this fellowship, so lacking in a city. I like Nashville but some day I hope to live again in a small town.

I was a student at Howard College in Birmingham for three years and in 1926 earned a coveted A.B. degree, majoring in history. I was busy "working my way through." The same fields in which I was interested in high school claimed my attention in college. As I see it now, I was too immature (I enrolled at sixteen) to receive the greatest benefit from college. I lacked travel and I underestimated fellowship with classmates. I had an exaggerated idea of scholarship. But college was not disappointing and to my Alma Mater I owe much.

At nineteen I began teaching math and English in the Etowah County High School, Attalla, Alabama. Some of my pupils were as old as I but they respected authority and that first year of teaching will ever stand out as one of the happiest and most profitable years of my life.

Two more interesting years of teaching in the same school followed. I began to be active in the Baptist Church, especially in the B.Y.P.U. This experience proved to be of value later.

I had determined since early college days to be a lawyer. So in 1929, just as the depression began to be evident, I entered the law school of Yale University. The year I spent in New Haven was a liberal education. Only one hundred were admitted each year at that time and practically all the states were represented in the law school. I found that as a Southerner I was a curiosity. On many occasions I was interrogated about the South, and was forced to listen to slurring remarks about it, made usually by people who had never been there. The ignorance of classmates about the South I found to be colossal. The intellectual atmosphere of Yale was stimulating and inspiring. I made many valued friends. On one occasion Dr. William Lyon Phelps, distinguished English professor at Yale and a fellow church member at Calvary Baptist, invited me to his home for dinner. It was a never-to-be-forgotten visit.

The depression came. The acceptance of a job at the Baptist Sunday School Board imperceptibly changed the course of my life from law to religious education but it was two years before I was to recognize the change. I transferred from Yale to the law school of Vanderbilt University from which I received the LLB. degree in 1932. I passed the Tennessee bar examination and received a license to practice law. But my work at the Sunday School Board had proved too fascinating and I decided to devote my life to it. I did graduate work in English at Vanderbilt in further preparation for my work at the Board and received a Master of Arts in 1933. My professors, Doctors Mims, Curry, Ransom, and Owsley, inspired me with a new enthusiasm for scholarship.

In the fall of 1933 the most important event of my life took place, in Andalusia, Alabama. Florence Rebecca Conner and I were married in a ceremony at the First Baptist Church. I have found in matrimony even more than I expected and am supremely happy in my home life. My wife received a Master of Arts in English from Vanderbilt in 1934. She also studied with me at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and has for several years been taking music at Ward Belmont. We have three children: Charles, aged 5; Mary Alice, aged 3; and Nancy, aged 2.

In the summer of 1937 it was my privilege to accompany a party of young people to Europe to attend the Baptist Youth Congress which met in Zurich. This was the crowning event of my educational career up to that time. We sailed on the Queen Mary and disembarked at Cherbourg. We toured France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and England. For half of this trip I traveled alone, leaving the party to follow a route planned to suit individual tastes. I am convinced that a European trip is the equivalent of several years of college work. I was almost spellbound for the whole trip. Even now I can be lifted up to ethereal heights by the memory of my experiences abroad.

My work at the Baptist Sunday School Board has carried me to almost every nook and corner of the eighteen states of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have become, like all the field workers of the Sunday School Board, a Southern cosmopolite. I have made tours of all the Southern states and have visited many places of historical and literary importance. Each state has attractions that are unique to it and I never tire of visiting them. My favorite places are: Mobile in azalea time; Natchez during Pilgrimage Week; New Orleans any time; the Ozarks, Charleston, El Paso, Miami, Western North Carolina, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Nashville.

I hope to read the most important books on the South, as I want to become as familiar as possible with the people with whom I live and work.

My hobbies are tennis, chess, and collecting autographed books of my favorite authors. I play a great deal of tennis each year, I consider chess superior to all other games I have played. Among the authors in my autographed books collection are Booth Tarkington, Helen Keller, Archibald Rutledge, Edwin Markham, Douglas Freeman, Henry Van Dyke, Gerald Johnson, Charles M. Sheldon, Clarence Hawkes, Alvin York, Willa Cather, and many others, I have rarely failed to secure the autographed desired.

At thirty-four, I find life thrilling, zestful, and altogether satisfying. I have been fortunate and I am grateful for enlarging opportunities and a rich heritage. There is much I want to do. There are books I have resolved to write. In the realm of personal improvement I find my greatest challenge.

After the present wars our nation will occupy a new place among the countries of the world. All who hold places of public leadership should help In the solution of our sociological problems, toward the removal of racial prejudices and economic barriers, and for the creation of a world order based upon the ideals of democracy, religious freedom, and Christian brotherhood.

(This paper was written on an assignment in a class on Southern Literature by Dr. Susan Riley, one of my favorite teachers.)