Story By: Keyanna James
“… They would say go see Dr. Darden, Dr. Darden can help,” says Dr. Yvonne Phillips.
Dr. John W. Darden practiced medicine in Opelika for nearly 50 years.
“Tuskegee that’s how he got here.”
Yvonne Phillips got here by way of Dr. Darden himself.
“Dr. Darden delivered me, my brother, and a lot of us, my age and older.”
Phillips says she knew a lot of doctors at the V.A. Hospital in Tuskegee
“They told him that Opelika did not have a black doctor and he would do well here and he decided to come.”
Dr. Darden met Dr. Bruce when he arrived in Opelika.
“A white doctor here… Dr. Bruce took him up under his arms and they worked side by side so if he didn’t know something Dr. Bruce could help him.”
Dr. Darden opened a drug store with his brother Ben, downtown, where he saw his patients.
“It was a place where people would go on Sunday afternoon and have ice cream and different assortments of things that they were selling in the drug store it was like a hang out for people on Sunday.,” says Phillips.
Dr. Darden married Jean Logan of Montgomery Alabama in 1905.
November of 1906………they purchased the land upon which the historic Darden House sits.
“They were the kind of people who were just down to earth.”
“We would come over here and she would teach us manors, how to eat, how ladies should put their legs, you should never cross your legs ladies, they are always down and you cross them at the feet.”
When Dr. Darden became ill in 1944 he began to see patients in his Auburn Street home.
“The last time I came here I was about 11 years and old and I went to that office downstairs,” says Phillips.
“He talked to my grandmother, he says ‘she gone be alright May, she got low blood, she needs to eat better’ and whatever Dr. Darden said, it was religious to them and they did everything because they honored and they respected him.”
Dr. Darden passed January 10, 1949.
After his death in 1949…the community built J.W. Darden High School in 1951 and nearly 70 years later…Dr. Darden’s name is still being used for good.
“We were over at East Street right over here on this side of town and it just got too crowded and they had to build a beautiful high school… they decided to name it after Dr. Darden.”
J.W. Darden High School was built in 1951.
George Allen is President of the J.W. Darden Foundation and a graduate of Darden High School class of 1966.
“You can’t Imagine the comradery that all the classes have because it only lasted for like 20 years,” says Allen.
Darden High School closed spring of 1970.
“In 1996 we organized a grand reunion where all the classes could come together and just have a big affair,” says Phillips.
After the first grand reunion, the J.W. Darden Alumni Association was formed.
“In 1998 Barber Patten was mayor of the city of Opelika and she called and said that they were going to tear this house down, It was a sore eye on the street,” says Phillips.
“One way that we could keep the legacy alive, one way to perpetuate it is to offer some of the same services that Dr. Darden did in this area,” says Allen.
Dr. Kathy Jo Ellison, with the Auburn School of Nursing, is keeping his legacy alive.
“We are really privileged to have the wellness clinic that is trying to carry on that legacy and provide health services to those who have limited access in our Auburn Opelika area,” says Ellison
“He was well respected in the lee county… they would say go see Dr. Darden, Dr. Darden can help,” says Phillips.
“We tell the students that you are carrying on an important legacy,” says Ellison.
It’s safe to say that Dr. Darden’s legacy will live on forever.