HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – J.O. Johnson High School is now a pile of rubble that will soon be redeveloped to include a Northwest Huntsville amphitheater and a park with walking trails.
Images circulating online of high school trophies in demolition rubble sparked conversation among J.O. Johnson Jaguar alumni. Some people are still hurt by the school’s closure five years ago, and others are questioning the city’s transparency and even the legality of the destruction of the landmark school.
“None of those processes were illegal. Of the 12 meetings, two development meetings, and agreements that we have had, everybody was invited,” says Huntsville City Councilman Devyn Keith.
Alumni Casey Brown says he talked to Councilman Devyn Keith after jaguar alumni found trophies and other J.O. Johnson memorabilia at the abandoned campus in 2017.
“We were like Devyn you got to keep all this together we are losing our school this is the only thing we’ve got that represents our legacy we want this displayed somewhere,” says Casey Brown.
But councilman Keith says he never promised to keep all the trophies together.
“My promise was to keep everything possible,” says Keith.
When Brown and others realized the schools, demolition was imminent, they visited the site to pay respects.
“I wasn’t expecting to find anything. I took Devyn at his word I thought our legacy was secured,” says Brown.
Finding trophies amongst rubble created an outcry among the Jaguar community.
“I was like ‘what all those were supposed to be removed and they were in the same room, that they were in when we discovered them that night,” said Brown.
Keith says the city put together a team that removed a portion of the trophies for future display.
“There were thousands not hundreds(of trophies). Johnson has a historic history and with thousands of trophies left for the city to manage. The trophies we had left were the ones that were salvageable.
To be completely honest, a lot of the alumni now, more than what we have at the Johnson Legacy Center, hold onto them and have them privately because of their involvement in the process,” says Keith.
Alum Chris Horn says the trophies left behind would have been valuable to someone.
“J.O. Johnson was known for its ROTC and a lot of those statues for ROTC are underneath that rubble because we saw them when we came to try to pick them up,” says Chris Horn.
Brown says the city could and should have handled this differently.
“People could have could have went online and requested them. I mean, no one should be penalized because they moved to another part of the country, they’re still a Jaguar,” says Brown.
Horn says after years of fighting for the school’s fate, one thing is certain the legacy will live on in the lives of Jaguars.
“Memories are underneath that rubble but we’re going to keep them alive in our heart. In our spirit, in our minds. The feeling I have is a great sense of loss,” says Horn.
Alumni say they are still hurt that they not only lost their building but the namesake of the school. J.O. Johnson was not transferred to the new building, that school instead became Mae Jemison high school.