The first high school in the City of Detroit was established in a new building on Miami Street (Broadway) in 1859, on a site used by the Detroit Board of Education.  In 1863, the high school was relocated to the second story of the Capitol Building, where a Union school was maintained.  Thirty years later, on the night of January 27, 1893, the old Capital High School was destroyed by fire. 

    Several months later, a proposal was made for the building of three high schools – Central, Western and Eastern –. It was denounced amid protests for such useless extravagance and demands for the economy in public expenditure.

    Two and a half years later, Eastern High School was born at a Board Meeting on August 8, 1895.  A motion was made by Mr. M. R. Marr to provide Eastside Detroit residents with a high school.  The Williams Elementary School on Canfield near Mt. Elliott was selected as its birthplace.  Its first principal was Dr. Houghton and the school enrollment was 57 students.  As enrollment increased, the school was moved to the Harris School at Pulford and Ellery streets.

    Eastside Detroiters had been campaigning for a new high school.  Central High School had been erected to replace the burned-down Capitol High School and Westside residents had the new Western High School.



    Home of the Indians

    School Colors: Black and Orange

    On July 9, 1900, at the meeting of the Board of Education, the Committee on Finance reported the execution, by Mary Field, of the deed to the property known as the Eastern High School site, bound by Grand Boulevard, Mack Ave, Field Ave, and Preston Street, and the same having been certified by the Corporation Counsel as correct in form, recommended its acceptance and approval by the Board.

    The cornerstone was laid on the Mack-Grand Boulevard corner of the foundation on Monday, August 27, 1900, at 4:00 p.m.. for Eastern.

    In September 1901, the new building was ready for occupancy.  The first classes to enter the new high school were greeted with a double forte din of pounding plumbers, intermingled with the incessant racket of the carpenters.  The varnish was still sticky and much of the necessary school equipment was lacking. 

    Nevertheless, EASTERN HIGH SCHOOL finally had a home of its own.  During the first few weeks of occupancy, an evening session was held in which the parents were invited to view the handiwork and prodigality of the growing City of Detroit.  The invitation to the citizens read:

    “Yourself and Ladies are cordially invited to attend the Dedication Exercises of the Detroit Eastern High School.”

    The cost of building Eastern High School was $378,800 plus $25,000 for the site.  The official capacity of the building was 850 and there was an enrollment of over 300 at the time of the dedication.

    By 1909 there was overcrowding as 1100 people were enrolled in a school built for 850.  The community talked about the need for a larger building and the addition of a wing on the Field Avenue side of the building was added in 1910 to house a gymnasium, biological laboratory, manual training department, eight recitation rooms, and two grade rooms or study halls.  One of the features of the new gym was a swimming pool.  By 1915, the number of students had risen to 1665, but it wasn’t until 1928 and 1930  that other additions were built to relieve the overcrowding.  The additions included a more adequate boys’ gymnasium and pool, a lunchroom with two service counters, and built-in lockers in the corridors.

    Eastern prospered over the years with great athletic and music programs.  It had a strong Parent-Teacher Association and scholarship at its best.  Over time, Eastern was expanded to accommodate the ever-increasing number of young people who enrolled in what became a landmark of the older east side of Detroit.

    Innovations at Eastern included the development of the honor point system, the refinement of the card marking system from U-unsatisfactory /S-satisfactory to a – E/F, the introduction of self-serve lunch counters and individual student lockers, made of oak, which was the first in the country. 

    In 1960, Eastern was considered a fire hazard and had to be replaced.

    Finally, in 1962, the Board of Education designated an 11-acre parcel of land at 3200 East Lafayette bounded by Congress, Elmwood, and Mt. Elliott for a new building.  More than half a million dollars was paid for the land and condemnation.  The contract for the new structure was awarded on July 28, 1964.  It had taken two years to plan the design of the school by citizens and school personnel.    Twenty-two additional acres were purchased at the time to accommodate a health and physical education wing. It was called the “new” Eastern High School by all the citizens of Detroit.



    In the 1930s, the population of Detroit was exploding.  The area south of the school was known as the Black Bottom neighborhood and was home to an integrated community.  However, in the 1920s, the area became home to a predominantly African-American community.  The students from this area were attending Eastern High School, but after complaints by parents of white students about the rising Black student population, the Detroit Board of Education converted the Sidney D. Miller Middle School into a senior high school in 1933.  A liberal school transfer policy allowed white students zoned to Miller to attend Eastern, which left Miller as the de facto, if not de jure, African-American High School.  From 1933 – 1957 Miller served as the main, but an unofficial secondary school for Black students.  In 1955, a step was taken to end the de facto segregation of the Detroit School System and in 1957 Miller was converted back into a middle school.  The students from the middle school then moved on to Eastern. 


    The Tragedy of 1968 brought a “CHANGE” to EASTERN HIGH SCHOOL

    On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  That same evening after watching the 11 o’clock news, a conversation took place between Margaret Buford-Hughes, a former teacher from Eastern High School and a current teacher at the “New Eastern High School” and Fanny (Imani) Humphrey, a fellow English teacher who said,   “Let’s petition the Board of Education, right away, to allow us to rename our new school Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School before some other school thinks of it first. Our building is the newest in the city. So it would make a lot of sense for us to have the honor.” I said that it was a brilliant idea and together we enlisted the assistance of fellow English teacher Maxine Perry.  We presented our proposal the next morning before classes began to the principal, Robert Branton, who made it perfectly clear that he disapproved.  We took our plan to school superintendent Dr. Norman Drachler, who thought it was an excellent idea, but cautioned that the Board of Education would have the final say.  The predominantly white Board of Education vetoed the idea on the grounds that to change the name of this grand old school would be to distort history, destroy a proud tradition, and insult loyal alumni.  Moreover, there was resistance to the change by some of the faculty and even by some of the students, who said that they felt certain that there were some among them whose behavior would disgrace Martin Luther King’s name.  And, as might be expected, alumni came out solidly against the change.  But – right or wrong – we refused to be deterred.  We formed an ad hoc committee and took our case to the community and gained the support of parents, clergy, and community leaders.  It never entered our minds that we were hurting many people needlessly or that we were, in essence, stealing the birthright, as we were, of literally thousands of loyal alumni.  We thought we were on a “holy crusade.” 

    Under mounting pressure, recalling that during the summer of 1967 Detroit experienced severe social unrest, the Board reversed itself and approved the proposal, announcing that Dr. King's name and spirit will live on.  Called a “living lesson in human dignity” in a resolution issued by the Detroit Board of Education on April 10, 1968, Dr. King is being memorialized by the dedication of the New Eastern High School in his name.  The board further felt it was a fitting tribute to a man who changed the course of American history by insisting on freedom and justice for black people.  It is fitting because when Eastern High School opened its doors in 1901, it too was a symbol of great hope for Detroit, which had only two other high schools at the time, Central and Western.  Dr. King’s birth date was also ordered and entered into the annual board calendar for appropriate recognition by students and their teachers.  This was many years before Washington declared a Dr. King Holiday.  Significantly, this is the first time in more than 125 years of public education in Detroit that a school has been re-dedicated.  In this formal act, Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School joins a long list of Detroit Public Schools named for honored Americans.  “Dr. King’s teachings and precepts are a living lesson in human dignity and understanding for all classrooms of learning, for all who cherish and respect freedom and equality for all…” the Board’s resolution concluded.

    On September 29, 1968, the “New Eastern” High School was rededicated and renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High with dignitaries such as Mrs. Rosa Parks, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., the Honorable John Conyers, the Honorable Charles C. Diggs, Jr., Mr. Arthur L. Johnson - Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Norman Drachler - Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Peter F. Grylls - President, Board of Education and Mr. Robert C. Branton, Principal in attendance, among many others.  The dedication ceremony opened with a selection from the school band, under the direction of Mr. Melvin Thompson.  The invocation was given by Rev. Toussaint Hill of New Pilgrim Baptist Church.  Student Dwight Murchison welcomed everyone and remarks were given by Principal Branton, Board President Grylls, and Superintendent Drachler.  The remarks were followed by a selection of the choir, under the direction of Mr. Aaron Hicks.  Additional comments were made by John Conyers.  Charles Diggs, Jr. introduced the guest speaker, Rosa Parks.  Mrs. Park’s speech was followed by a memorial by Deputy Superintendent Johnson with a final selection by the choir and the Benediction by Rev. John Quick of the Church of the Covenant, Presbyterian.

    With the rededication of the school’s name, the decision was made to also change the school nickname from Indians to Crusaders and the school colors from black and orange to black and gold.

    1982 saw the construction of a $12.5 million dollar addition, containing science and computer laboratories, and a fully equipped multi-purpose auditorium that seats 1,200 people.  The addition also houses art, drama, and music classrooms.  The Olympic –size swimming pool and ROTC classroom and rifle range were also added at this time.

    The new additions to King were celebrated at a Dedication Ceremony on Monday, December 20, 1982, at 7:00 pm.


    The 21st Century brings A NEW BUILDING


    2010-2011 sees the last classes held in the “New Eastern High School / King High School” building.  The decision was made that the 48-year-old building was not cost-efficient and repairs to the structure far outweighed the ability to build a “New King High School.” The new school was constructed behind the old building and rose from the ground in just one year.  King students spent the summer of 2011 at Golightly Career and Technical Center and moved into their new building with the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

    We know there are wonderful King alumni, staff, and community members who have played a predominant role in the history of the school and we’d like to feature them in the Legacy of King High School.  Please email damian.perry@detroitk12.org and tell us your graduation year, story, and /or snapshot you’d like to mention in the history of Eastern/ King High School.