Highland Park was, from the very beginning, a forward-looking community when it came to education. Benjamin Franklin High School was founded in 1916, originally on the campus of Monte Vista Elementary School. The Arroyo Seco Branch library had already opened around the corner in 1913, and the following year saw the opening of the Southwest Museum. Throw in Occidental College and Free Methodist Seminary, and you have an area thick with institutions of leaning.
At the time of its founding, the school served the area's suburbanites; a quick look at yearbooks from the 1910s reveals a student population that was predominately white. Interestingly the school's first club was the Spanish Club, perhaps bringing awareness to the area's early settlers. But it remained that the student body included only a sprinkling of Asians and Latinos, as was the case even when future Chicano Movement activist Rosalío Muñoz attended Franklin High in the early '60s. After a trip to Mexico with his father, Muñoz felt an awakening of ethnic identity, taking to wearing a sombrero around campus. He became the first Latino student to be elected as student body president.
By the 1970s, Franklin High students had formed a MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Atzlán) chapter, bringing to their campus the national group seeking empowerment and unity for Chicano youths. MEChA had come together in the late 1960s through a consolidation of several entities with similar political aims, such as the Mexican American Youth Organization and the Brown Berets. MEChA exists to this day, with several conferences held annually on college campuses throughout California and rest of the country.
Eventually, Latino students outnumbered white students. Today, Franklin High School has 2,600 students—more than ten times as many as it did when founded almost 100 years ago—and educates the core of Highland Park's Latino community.
Above, former Franklin High student Ricardo Muñoz describes the demographic shifts of the student body; Rosalío Muñoz talk about his involvement with the Chicano Movement and how he became the first Chicano student body president. Slideshow of photos from Franklin High yearbooks shows the change in student body demographics.