Last month, George Raveling was joined by CBS’ James Brown on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to recall the Martin Luther King “I Have A Dream” speech given 50 years ago — Aug. 28, 1963. The piece aired recently on “CBS Sunday Morning”:
It was about a year ago when George Raveling found himself in Oregon, sitting through a global sports marketing meeting at Nike’s headquarters.
Raveling, the shoe company’s director of international basketball, was part of a seminar on how make a better group presentation.
The model used as an example: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
“The woman explained to us how a speech had to create a clear vision,” the former USC coach recalled. “From a leadership standpoint, you had to present that vision, and then show people how it would unfold – the strategy, the journey, the destination.
“She took us from the beginning of that speech and showed how Dr. King used his voice, his tone, going low at times, and then becoming more boisterous, how he could manipulate the audience’s emotions as he spoke.
“It was all about getting people willing to follow that vision. She demonstrated how Dr. King took everyone to this ‘promised land,’ and showed them what it would look like.”
One of Raveling’s colleagues sitting close by leaned over to him.
“You’re pretty familiar with all this, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Raveling responded, “but I’ve never looked at it from this perspective.”
That’s probably because for the last five decades, Raveling’s up-close perspective of that historic speech must have felt as if he was living his own kind of dream.
The fascinating story has been told many times before, but it still produces a goose-bump moment:
Raveling was not only present at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place 50 years ago. But, positioned just a few feet away from Dr. King as part of volunteer security duty, the 26-year-old Raveling asked for and was directly handed the three-page typed speech from Dr. King as he left the podium to end the day-long event of civil rights speakers.
“It was just an impulse reaction,” Raveling, now 76, continues to explain it today. “I’d like to be able to say I had it all figured out, but . . . it’s like hitting the lottery.”
Raveling, a Washington D.C. native, was the assistant basketball coach at Villanova at the time, making the overnight trip from Wilmington, Del., with his friend, Warren Wilson. Both were recruited to work security, and Raveling ended up standing about eight people away to Dr. King’s left.
The speech ended, the crowd on that sweltering day that has swelled to some 300,000 erupted, and Raveling said he simply walked up to Dr. King and asked: “Can I have that copy of the speech?”
King had just folded it and handed it to Raveling, and then turned his attention to a rabbi who congratulated him.
Raveling eventually stuck the papers into a personalized autographed copy of a Harry S Truman biography – “I knew if I put them there, I’d never get rid of that book,” Raveling said.
But not until some 20 years later did he even recall that he had the documents, when a reporter asked if he’d been involved in the civil rights movement. Raveling said his wife didn’t even know he had the speech until he remembered where he had tucked them away.
The reporter eventually framed the three pieces of paper and gave them to Raveling as a gift. But for most of the last 30 years, Raveling, who lives in the Ladera Heights area of L.A., has kept them in a local bank vault for safe keeping.
The pages show some wear but are otherwise clear. Where it was once stapled together in the top left corner, there is rust left showing.
The speech doesn’t even have a title. And nowhere, it should be noted, are the words “I have a dream” anywhere in that text.
King, who gave a version of that “dream” speech in Detroit earlier in the year, apparently did not plan to use the phrase until he went off script. Many say King was encouraged to do so by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, part of the entertainment for the festivities who stood nearby and yelled out: “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.”
So for a speech was only supposed to be four minutes, it ended up going 16 minutes, far longer than any other speaker that day. And it wasn’t until afterward, when the day’s key participants met with President John Kennedy at the White House, did Kennedy remark to King: “And you have a dream.”
Several hundred copies of the speech King prepared were distributed to the media before it was delivered, but with a copyright stamp on them. Raveling’s copy does not have that notation.
Several historians have authenticated Raveling’s copy. King’s handwriting does not appear on the documents, but an acquaintance of Raveling’s who worked for the FBI had the organization also verify that King’s fingerprints are on it. The only notation is one Raveling made on the third page, indicating where King diverted from the prepared words and went off on the “dream” verbiage.
So, then, what might these documents be worth?
“I never really think about that, because I’m not going to try to sell it, so why worry about it?” Raveling said. “Let the experts worry about that.”
A recent USA Today story quoted a rare documents historian as claiming they could easily be valued in the $25 million price range.
Even with today’s anniversary, Raveling doesn’t plan to put them on public display today, mostly because of security and insurance reasons. He has also not decided where they might find a permanent home. If anywhere, he said, he’d like them to be somewhere in Washington D.C.
Raveling admits he is “oversensitive and uncomfortable” with the publicity that surrounds his ownership of the documents “because I don’t want this to define me as a person.”
In the years since it was revealed they were in his possession, Raveling has educated himself even more about the importance of that day, as many interview requests often come seeking his perspective, especially in the last month.
He’ll cite recent facts he’s learned about the “March on Washington” – how Kennedy tried to persuade King not to do the speech, but King said he had a “moral obligation” to deliver it. How it was only decided until very late that King , not A. Phillip Randolph, would speak last. He marvels at the photographs showing people in their Sunday best clothes that day, peaceful, hopeful, respectful of the moment.
“Really, no one realized the speech would take on this historic significance,” admitted Raveling. “Here were are, 50 years later, still putting it into historical perspective.
“We’ve seen change – the most significant that you’ve got to believe would have pleased Dr. King is having a black person in the White House, which none of us thought we’d see in our lifetime. But at the same time, you’ll see articles that point out the unemployment numbers for blacks in 1963 are almost equal to what they are today.
“Maybe we’ve taken some giant steps, but for every two forward, maybe we take one back. There’s still a lot of work to be done as we move ahead.”
As one of the most successful African-American coaches in college basketball history , Raveling compiled a 337-292 record from 1972-’94 with Iowa, Washington State and USC, with six NCAA Tournament appearances, including taking the 1991-92 Trojans (24-6) with Harold Minor to the second round before they were upset.
He was part of Bob Knight’s coaching staff that led the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal at the L.A. Summer Games.
His coaching career ended abruptly when, at age 54, he was badly injured in a 1994 car accident, which led to a career as a TV analyst and then with Nike.
His career as a star player at Villanova and then in decades of coaching and public speaking has given him a profound podium of sorts to stay connected to the ideology of how sports and competition have clearly pushed Dr. King’s vision of a “dream” society for the last five decades – and considering how 16 years prior to that was Jackie Robinson’s breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
“Sports have always been a huge platform in America, because it affords a great entry point for the sociologically disadvantaged of all races,” said Raveling.
“What sports fundamentally teach is that, once you step inside the boundaries, you learn to compete and play with whites, blacks, Latinos, Chinese. Once the whistle blows, you’re no longer defined by race, but by your skills.
“It gets back to what Dr. King said, when he longed for the day when his children could live in a nation where they weren’t judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. They’ll come a time when we won’t refer to people by race, just as American.
“It’s incumbent for each of us – black or white or of any race – to understand we have a civic and social responsibility to our country, and we have to carve out a way to help fight and irradiate racial injustice in America. No one has to have same methodology.”
Raveling’s connection to the King speech become more important to keeping the dream alive as he encounters younger players today.
While attending the FIBA world under-19 championships in Prague last month, Raveling was asked by coach Billy Donovan to address the U.S. team before their title game against Serbia.
Raveling showed a video tape of an interview he did years ago about the King speech (see below), and used that to impress upon the players about their unique opportunity that very few Americans experience.
“I told them that your country is asking you to represent them, to make a sacrifice, to restore some prestige for U.S. basketball,” Raveling said.
The Americans won, 82-68.
Next week, Raveling, the first African-American head basketball coach in Pac-12 (then Pac-8) history, will receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“George was a trailblazer in the college coaching profession, he took so much pride in educating his players not only about basketball, but also about life,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall of Fame Board, in making the announcement.
Raveling was also named one of the 2013 recipients of the Lapchick Character Award – named after former St. John’s and New York Knicks coach Joe Lapchick, recognizing those who have shown his character traits.
On his own “Coaching For Success” website – www.coachgeorgeraveling.com – Raveling posts probing interviews that he’s done extracting insights from some of the game’s top coaches. He often makes book recommendations. He frequently sends words of inspiration from his Twitter account.
One of his most recent: “Be the right person, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing with the right people!”
Fifty years ago today, Raveling was right on that.
== An interview Raveling did 12 years ago with TNT’s Jim Huber for an MLK Day airing:
== Another video of Raveling explaining that day 50 years ago:
== Our conversation with Raveling back in 1996 about his broadcasting career.