J.W. Darden High School

Dublin Core


J.W. Darden High School


Education; Lee County, AL; Opelika, AL; J.W. Darden High School; Desegregation; Civil Rights Era; Darden, Dr. J.W.; Head Start; Opelika High School; Opelika High - Southside Campus; Johnson, Judge Frank M.; Brown v. Board of Education; Department of Justice; African American Schools; Peterson, Birdie; East Street High School


Founded in 1951, J.W. Darden High School took on the ninth and tenth grade students of East Street High School and added eleventh and twelfth grade curricula. Darden was Opelika’s African-American high school until the city’s high schools integrated in 1972. The school board chose to name the black high school after J.W. Darden, Lee County’s first African-American doctor. From its inception, Darden High served as a focal point of local African-American community life in Opelika. Interviews of former students relay the sense of pride that Darden High instilled in Opelika’s black residents, despite fighting a losing battle with the school board for adequate funding. Birdie Peterson, a 1965 Darden graduate, remembered Darden as a “premier school” and imparted the respect that its students had for their educational environment, claiming that they “kept that building up as if it were (their) our own home.”

In May 1968, the Department of Justice forced the city school board to end construction on a $350,000 remodeling project at Darden High School. The DOJ saw the expansion of Darden as a measure taken to appease local African-Americans and maintain Opelika’s segregated school system in defiance of Brown v. Board of Education. In the fall of 1970, in an attempt to delay conformity to Federal Judge Frank M. Johnson’s order to fully integrate, Opelika’s school board refashioned Darden High School as a vocational school. They renamed Darden Opelika High – Southside Campus and included the school’s student body in its enrollment figure despite the separate locations of the schools so as to make Opelika High School appear integrated when it in fact had done no such thing. The black student body remained at Darden for the next two years as Opelika’s school board scrambled to build a new high school and comply with the court integration order.

Upon the opening of Opelika’s integrated high school, the school board decided to close Darden despite its relative newness in comparison to the rest of the city’s school buildings. Many in Opelika’s black community mourned the school’s closing. When Darden closed, the Opelika’s African-American population lost their high school football team, cheerleading squad, color schema, and to some degree a sense of local autonomy. The school board then sold the Darden High School building to Head Start, who still uses the facility, located at 600 South Fourth Street, Opelika, today. A strip of grass in front of the facility frames a stone marker commemorating Dr. J.W. Darden and the efforts of the many teachers who molded the minds of Opelika’s black high school students.


Taylor McGaughy


Image Source: http://www.classmates.com/places/school/Darden-High-School/28068?hitwiseSegment=free&checkCookie=1417644400216

Text Sources: Joseph M. Bagley, A Meaningful Reality: The Integration of the Opelika, Alabama City School System, 1965-1972 (MA Thesis, Auburn University, 2007), 46, 35, 51-53.

The Heritage of Lee County Book Committee, The Heritage of Lee County, Alabama (Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000), 79.


Alabama Cultural Resource Survey




Taylor McGaughy


JPEG and Text




Still Image and Text