“In the early 1900s a horse and buggy slowly made its way along dusty, dirt roads throughout Opelika and the countryside as Dr. John Darden began a long day of calling on patients. His bride, Maude Jean, who rode along to keep the young doctor company, sat in the buggy and waited until he provided medical care to his patients.
“John Wesley Darden had decided at 13 years of age that he wanted to become a medical doctor when he was unable to find a physician for his unconscious younger sister. His sister lived, fueling a young John to become a doctor.
“Born in 1876 in Wilson, N.C., John was the eldest of 13 children. His father was the first African American undertaker in the state of North Carolina and also owned a general store that sold fresh produce and his homemade wine. The community held him in such high esteem that the first African American high school was named in his honor, the Charles H. Darden High School.
“When John was 13 years old, his parents, who were determined to give all their children an education, sent him to high school in Salisbury, N.C. John worked his way through Livingstone College (now Shaw University) [sic; but this is incorrect] and a medical internship in Long Island, N.Y.
Since his hometown already had African American medical service, the young doctor began searching for a place where his services were needed. A college friend, who was a physician in Tuskegee, recommended the small town of Opelika. John moved to Opelika in 1903 and became the first African American physician in a 30-mile radius and began working 18-hour days. …”
After restoration, Dr. Darden’s house was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Today, it houses the J.W. Darden Wellness Center, which offers health screening and education in collaboration with the J.W. Darden Foundation, Inc., the EAMC Parish Nurse Program, and the Auburn University School of Nursing. For more of Dr. Darden’s remarkable life and practice in Opelika, see Dr. John Wesley Darden, www.eastalabamaliving.com, the source of the passage above.