September of 1972, the Martin Luther King High School of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania opened its doors. The neighborhood school was built to house ninth and tenth grade students living in the West Oak Lane, Mt. Airy, and Germantown neighborhoods. Originally the school was planned to open for all four high school grades but the School District of Philadelphia later declined the idea due to a fear that middle class residents would enroll their children at the Martin Luther King building and that the lower class students would enroll their children at the already opened, Germantown High School. To steer away from this scenario, the School District of Philadelphia chose to give the students the opportunity to enroll in both schools throughout their high school lives. Ninth and tenth grade students were to enroll in Martin Luther King High School and once they left the 10th grade, they were to attend the Germantown High School for their final two years before graduation. Eventually these plans also fell through and the two high schools became somewhat rivals, each housing freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
Since its opening in 1972, the Martin Luther King High School has been known for its somewhat elaborate building structure and design. The building has received numerous awards for its open floor plan and use of “clusters.” The school’s first principal, Louis “Lou” DeVicaris wanted the school to be different from others, so he created a unique building with sections on each floor, called clusters. Every floor of the building had two clusters, which was a separate area for students to have a space apart from other grades. Each grade was on one floor and every grade had two clusters. Each cluster consisted of seven classrooms, seven teachers, its own counselor, and its own non teaching assistant who was in charge of disciplinary action. Each floor of the building also had its own cafeteria. The use of clusters and addition to having a cafeteria on each floor was a way to reduce the number of students roaming the halls and also to get the students to their classes in time, without having to travel too far from room to room. Initially the school was also supposed to have a swimming pool, however plans to build one were never completed due to financial conflicts and a disagreement with the school district.
The High School is named after the African American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr and has always taken pride in the King name. The school opened only four years after King’s death so originally the students already knew plenty about King. Nevertheless, history and english teachers at Martin Luther King High School take time out of their lesson plans to teach the students the importance of King and also about his legacy as an activist. Every year a concert is held inside of the building on King’s birthday to celebrate the human rights icon.