Opponents Fight J.O. Johnson High School Name Change Proposal

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Criticism from former students continues as the Huntsville school district considers the retirement of the J.O. Johnson name for the city’s northwest high school.

During a “Save the J.O. Johnson High School name” meeting Tuesday evening held by the school alumni association, members committed to continuing their opposition of the school district’s plan to replace the name.

As opponents argue against taking the J.O. Johnson name off of the high school that serves northwest Huntsville, some people are asking: Who was J.O. Johnson?

According to research by our news partners at The Huntsville Times, James Oliver Johnson was a member of the Huntsville school board for one year, from 1967 to 1968. Johnson died suddenly while in office. He also served as a teacher and coach at the old West Huntsville High School.

According to a biography of Johnson, he also had a 31-year Army career, earning the rank of brigadier general before he retired in 1967. His wife, Ruth, was a teacher at East Clinton Elementary School.

[Click here to learn more about J.O. Johnson's life.]

According to an article published in The Huntsville Times on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1969, Johnson died during a trip to Atlanta the previous Saturday, Aug. 2.

The school board decided three days after Johnson’s death to name the yet-to-be-built northwest Huntsville high school after him. The architect’s design of the school had not yet been created.

J.O. Johnson High School opened its doors in 1972 with a capacity for 2,500 students. Johnson High last year had fewer than 600 students, which has prompted the school district to build a smaller high school on a new site.

The new campus will also have a junior high school that will replace Davis Hills and Ed White middle schools.

Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski announced last month has taken ownership of a plot of land along Pulaski Pike where a replacement campus for Johnson will be built. A junior high will also be built on the campus.

The school board is considering naming the schools after Mae Carol Jemison, a Decatur native and former astronaut who was the first black woman in space, and Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space and one of the seven astronauts killed aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.

The J.O. Johnson name would remain with the current building, which the city is planning to turn into a public service training facility.

(Information contributed by our news partners at the Huntsville Times)


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