PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —Behind the walls of Girard College in North Philadelphia sits a 43-acre, 30-building sprawling campus filled with a rich legacy.
The school is in its 170th year, founded by Stephen Girard for orphaned white males but in August of 1965, everything would change.
“His arrival on August 3 was something that was absolutely historic,” explained Henry Fairfax, vice president for institutional advancement and enrollment at Girard College. “Cecil B. Moore and the freedom fighters, they led marches and pickets around campus.”
During the height of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King loaned his voice to a movement in Philadelphia in hopes of desegregating Girard College. The rally attracted hundreds and hundreds of people, hanging on King’s every word.
“It was really about access to educational excellence and opportunity and obviously that’s a hallmark of Dr. King’s legacy,” Fairfax said.
“We serve students that are coming from under represented backgrounds that are functional orphans they come from environments where there are single parent homes,” he said.
The Philadelphia native took us on a tour with historic memorabilia like a jacket worn by Owen Gowan.
“This was worn on the first day of school,” said Fairfax, explaining how it symbolized the day four young African-American students broke the color barrier at the school, three years after King’s rally.
“So we went from orphaned white males back in 1831 to today, we’re about 81 percent students of color,” Fairfax said.
The graduation pictures from decades of matriculating students are now dotted with diversity and Girard College also now acts as one of the biggest hosts on Martin Luther Kings’s Day of service every year.
“We’re a signature site. There’s almost 6-7,000 people on campus doing service day projects,” said Fairfax.
The boarding school for first through 12th grade students is also about to celebrate a milestone, its 50th year of desegregation. It’s students and staff, standing on the shoulders of giants of change.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have an opportunity to be here and more important, our students wouldn’t have access to this,” Fairfax said. “Every time I have an opportunity to meet somebody that was part of that history, I say, ‘Thank you.'”