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  • Reverend James Squire

What Most People Don't Know About King's "I Have a Dream" Speech

Photo by Clay Banks

August 28th was the 60th anniversary of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “I have a Dream Speech.” Many assume that he had the speech written down. It wasn’t!

But there is much more!

There is a story that not many people know. I discovered that the person who had the original copy of Dr. King’s address was George Raveling, a member of the 1957-1960 Villanova Basketball Team. I also knew that Coach Raveling was the Director of International Basketball for Nike so he was a very busy person. He is the individual who brought Michael Jordan to Nike. I thought that it would be great to have him be the Chapel speaker before the Martin Luther King Holiday. Thanks to legendary coach of Villanova, an EA parent, and friend, Coach Jay Wright, I was able to connect with Coach Raveling. He enthusiastically responded that he would come and speak in Chapel about his experience standing next to Dr. King as he was giving his “I Have a Dream Speech” and how he became the owner of the original copy.

Coach Raveling and I had several phone calls so that I could tell him about our school and chapel and to make the necessary arrangements. Then I got a phone call from him that he had a fall which resulted in a serious broken bone, but he still planned on coming to us. I was elated only to learn that his doctor wouldn’t approve of his traveling.

I have attached two videos of Coach Raveling speaking so that you can see why he would be a terrific speaker not only about King’s speech considered one of the five greatest speeches in American history as well his reflections on race in America and some little-known facts regarding that March on Washington and King’s inspiration for his famous speech.

Raveling had not planned on attending the March on Washington where 250, 000 people would be present but was encouraged by a father of a friend with whom he was staying in Claymont, Delaware to attend. Given his size, Raveling was pressed into service when he arrived early for the speech to be one of bodyguards for Dr. King at the age of 26. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. Later Raveling would become a pioneer as well becoming the first African American head basketball coach in what was then the Pacific 8 Conference at Washington State. He left there to coach at Iowa. He ended his coaching career at the University of Southern California.

All the speakers were limited to five minutes or they would shut the mike down. Dr. King’s speech started out to be 4 minutes long but he spoke for 16 minutes. Raveling said, “If you were able to turn the sound volume up loud enough, you can hear a female voice in the back say, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” That person was Mahalia Jackson, the great Gospel singer. She had heard Dr. King speak at a lot of speeches and demonstrations and she had heard King do the dream theme at Selma and Detroit so she was familiar with it. At that point King would begin to improvise, as Raveling would later discover when he read the hard copy of King’s Speech.

I have been struck by some of the comments that Coach Raveling made about race in America at that time. He never experienced any racism at Washington State. He made a comment before we have had all of this controversy about the 1619 project and why AP History can’t be taught in Florida. Coach Raveling said, “It is impossible to have American History without Black History, and it is impossible to have Black History without American History.”

Yes, Coach Raveling was the one that got away as a chapel speaker, as it became impossible to schedule him later, but I will never forget his back story about the “I Have a Dream” speech, his grace, his kindness and willingness to come 3000 miles to speak to a community about Dr. King and his words that are a clarion call for racial justice and living in harmony with one another, something that is needed now more than ever.

I thought of him this morning when I was reading an article in the newspaper about the Penn Ridge School District where teachers were given a curriculum for social studies a few days before school started that came from conservative Hillsdale College. The curriculum diluted black history and didn’t contain the truth about the impact of slavery. The faculty were very upset about the timing and the content. Coach Raveling put it best in just a few words. “It is impossible to have American History without Black history, and it is impossible to have Black History without American History.”

The following videos will enlighten you regarding the life of Coach Raveling and why the speech was not made public for so long.

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