April 4, 1968 changed the entire course of history for the historic Detroit Eastern High School. On that day, civil rights pioneer Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A few months later, Eastern’s name was changed to Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School.
The two schools’ alumni associations have worked closely together over the years, honoring their jointed history through programs, alumni picnics, and other events. There is even a small Eastern High School museum inside of King’s building, featuring old trophies, newspaper clippings, and yearbooks on display.
The Historic Eastern High School Alumni Association and Martin Luther King Jr. High School Alumni Association continued their collaboration, honoring the 2018 Division 3 football state title team Monday at the school with a trophy. Representing alumni of both Eastern and King high schools were Ed Deeb (Eastern class of 1954), Larry Wilson (King class of 1970), Marilyn Ward-Hogan (Eastern class of 1967), and Pandora Brown (King class of 1970 and class treasurer).
King head football coach Tyrone Spencer was also in attendance, as well as members of the football team.
“It’s an honor to be here with you because you’re carrying the torch that once was Eastern,” said Deeb, who played football for Eastern. “We (Eastern) used to have great football and basketball teams and now we don’t have that anymore. It’s you who’s carrying the ball for us and we appreciate that.”
Detroit King football went 12-2 during the 2018 season, defeating Muskegon 41-25 in the championship game at Ford Field to capture its third state title in four years. Eastern never won a state title, but they did win a couple of city football titles. The high school also produced some football greats such as Harold Dukes and Johnny Fuqua, who was the intended receiver for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s pass referred to as the “Immaculate Reception.”
“I want my guys to understand what’s going on here,” said Spencer, who played football for King in 2003. “Eastern is a part of King High School and knowing your history is important, in order to know where you came from. My family went to Eastern and then they went to King when they built the new school, so, attending, playing, an coaching at King means a lot to my family and me. This is a great opportunity for them to learn some of their history.”
During the summer of 1966, Eastern High School relocated from the corner of Mack Avenue and East Grand Boulevard to a new building at 3200 East Lafayette. The new high school remained the Eastern Indians, colors black and orange, for two more years, up until Dr. King’s death in 1968.
Wilson is a part of a select few who attended both schools during the transition. He said students even had petitions going around to change the name and colors, much to the dismay of Eastern alum.
“During the transition, we had a group of students here known as the ABS, which stood for the Association of Black Students and they were the main group who spearheaded the change,” said Wilson, who played football for both high schools. “We worked hard to get the job done, but some of the Eastern alumni weren’t really pleased with the change. But that was during the Civil Rights Movement and those were a different breed of students then.”
This was the first year both alumni associations decided to honor the football teams at King and Deeb said they play on making it an annual event.