Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School was originally named Garfield Junior High School after U.S. President James A. Garfield. It was renamed for the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a few years after his assassination in 1968. Garfield Junior High School was established in the early 1900s at 1414 Walnut Street, just south of Rose Street. The school was moved into new buildings at the present site in 1922. The original site on Walnut Street was subsequently used for an elementary school (University Elementary School) and later as the headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District until the 1970s. The site and buildings are today occupied by the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center.
King was originally a junior high school serving grades 7 through 9. In the 1990s, following multiple school closures and relocations caused by damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Berkeley Unified School District’s grade structure was reorganized. Ninth grade was moved to Berkeley High School, and the sixth grade classes were gradually moved from the intermediate schools to the junior high schools. At King, a new building was constructed to house the sixth grade classes, as well as a new library. The name was changed from “Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School” to “Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School” in the mid-to-late 1990s.
In the early 2000s, the main building of the school was completely renovated and made more earthquake-resistant. Following a long legal struggle, a new cafeteria (the Dining Commons) was opened for use in the fall of 2008. Prior to its opening, food was cooked in a small room in the “Science Building” at the West end of campus.