Murphy High School
This historic Mobile Alabama school stands as a nearly 100-year-old institution notable for being the oldest High School in Mobile County. Opened in 1926 this high school features a large complex that was built on land bought from the local Carlen family to provide education to a growing Mobile populace. In 1963, during the Civil Rights Movement, Murphy high was one of many schools that still prevented African American students from being admitted to their all-white schools. On September 9th two students, Henry Hobdy and Dorothy Davis were denied entry to Murphy High school by Alabama State Troopers on orders from Governor George Wallace. In 1982 the school was added to the national register of historic places for its significance in architectural and educational history. Today the school has a quarterly schooling schedule and 14 advanced placement courses for college credit for students.
Backstory and Context
In 1923 the Mobile County school board began drawing up plans to build a new high school that would serve the entire county’s growing populace. Originally the school was intended to house grades 8 through 11, with 12th grade not being included in the original plans since it was not included in the Mobile County academic program at the time. In March of that same year the Mobile County Schoolboard started work to construct the new high school, they contracted Gorge B. Rogers, a notable Mobile Architect, to be the construction supervisor for the building. Later in 1923, the Mobile County school board purchased the property for the school from the Carlen family for the proposed school complex. The land that the board acquired sits adjacent to the Carlen family home, which sits on the northern side of the school property. On December 14th, 1925 the cornerstone of the school was laid on the property, beginning formal construction. The plan was to build 7 main buildings that would serve as the school. Those buildings were: the main academic building, auditorium, domestic arts building, cafeteria, biology building, and manual training shop.
On April 26, 1926, the school opened with a total cost of construction at $800,000. Originally the school opened with the name “Mobile High” but in 1928 the school was renamed “Murphy High.” The school was renamed after Samuel S. Murphy, the local school superintendent who had directed public education in Mobile for the previous 25 years.
Over the course of the next several decades, the school would see some major renovations and upgrades. In 1930 the school added an Olympic size swimming pool as well as gymnasiums for both boys and girls. The cost of these upgrades cost the school an additional $200,000 which lead to the school gaining a local nickname as “the million-dollar high school.” Additional upgrades to the high school would arrive in 1942 with the construction of the Technical School and in 1950 with the addition of an Art Building. The most recent addition to the school came in 1977 with the Driver education and classroom building.
During the Civil Rights era, Murphy High was one of many schools in Alabama that was still very segregated. Mobile County at the time, in particular, was still segregated and had separate schools for African American and White students. By the year 1963, it had become apparent that the Mobile County school board did not have a proper plan for desegregating schools in the city. On September 9th, 1963, students Henry Hobdy and Dorothy Davis were prevented entry to Murphy High by state troopers. The state troopers were there under orders of Governor George Wallace that prevented school integration. Wallace had written that “integration of the public schools will totally disrupt and effectively destroy the educational process.” Following the event, a group of African American parents in June of 1964 filed the Birdie Mae Davis lawsuit against Mobile County for failing to desegregate schools.
On November 4, 1982, the high school was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in architectural and educational history.
About The School, Murphy High School. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://www.mhspanthers.com/aboutus.
Alabama Department of Archives and History. ADAH On this day, Facebook. September 9th 2018. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://www.facebook.com/AlabamaArchives/posts/on-september-9-1963-dorothy-davis-and-henry-hobdy-arrived-at-the-campus-of-mobil/10157101090753072/.
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Brian, Duke. The Strange Career of Birdie Mae Davis: A History of a School Desegregation Lawsuit in Mobile, Alabama, 1963 - 1997, Semantic Scholar. January 1st 2009. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Strange-Career-of-Birdie-Mae-Davis%3A-A-History-a-Brian/0b1013b4dc19050bbb64adb5d1162b5f2004c29c#paper-header.
Executive Order Number 12 by Governor George C. Wallace., Alabama Department of Archives and History. September 9th 1963. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://digital.archives.alabama.gov/digital/collection/executive/id/193.
History of Murphy High School, Murphy Alumni. May 16th 2006. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20070331045900/http://www.murphyalumni.org/history.htm.
Murphy High School, Public School Review. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/murphy-high-school-profile/36606.
School History, Murphy High School Alumni Association. Accessed November 9th 2020. http://www.murphyalumni.org/School-History.html.
State troopers preventing Henry Hobdy and Dorothy Davis from entering Murphy High School in Mobile, Alabama., Alabama Department of Archives and History. September 9th 1963. Accessed November 9th 2020. https://digital.archives.alabama.gov/digital/collection/amg/id/59647.
Source gathered from: https://digital.archives.alabama.gov/digital/collection/amg/id/59647