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Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Reflecting on a Dream
Courtesy: Washington State Athletics
Release: 08/27/2013
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By Jason Krump, WSU Athletics

If George Raveling was coaching today, what would he tell his players about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech?

 "I wouldn't tell them anything. I would just show them the video," he said. 

 "They can learn a lot more from watching the video than listening to me talk about it."

 In the days leading up to the 50th anniversary of the iconic speech, the former Washington State basketball coach has been talking a lot about the events of that late summer day in Washington, D.C. 

The story of how Raveling obtained Dr. King's speech garnered national interest because of a CBS News feature that aired during its Aug. 18 Sunday Morning show.

Since the piece was broadcast, Raveling, who now lives in Los Angeles and is the Director of International Basketball for Nike, has been inundated with interview requests.

"I was leading a quiet and peaceful life and since the CBS piece, everybody in the world is calling," he said during a phone interview last Friday.

It's been impossible for Raveling to fulfill every request, but he did this one, because as he says, "I feel a lot of respect for, and owe it to, Washington State to do it."

Raveling made history himself when he accepted the head coaching position at Washington State in 1972, becoming the first black men's basketball head coach in the Pac-8 (now the Pac-12) Conference.

"It wasn’t something that I spent a whole lot of time thinking about it but I clearly was aware of it," Raveling said of becoming the first black head coach in conference history. “It was an easy decision because there weren’t many schools at that time hiring black coaches. That was the best opportunity presented to me so I took it. It wasn’t a difficult decision at all."

When Raveling arrived at Pullman, it had been nearly a decade since he gained possession of the “I Have A Dream” speech. 

"Honestly, I had the speech the whole time I was at Washington State but I couldn’t tell you one time that I ever pulled it out and looked at it," he said. 

"There wasn’t a single person who knew I had it and I never mentioned it to anybody," Raveling added. "It wasn't that I was trying to keep it a secret, it just wasn’t a subject of conversation.

"It took history to put the speech in its rightful context."

History placed Dr. King's speech and the March on Washington as a seminal event of the 20th Century, but Raveling recalls at the time of the march, the concern for many was history would be made that day for entirely different reasons.

"My role was to make sure we provided security for the speakers and dignitaries that were up there at the podium area," he said. "One of the reasons I got the opportunity to volunteer to be security is because they realized there were going to be an extraordinary amount of people there, and they wanted to make sure everything was secure."

There was significant apprehension of what may happen.

"There was a great fear of the march," Raveling remembered. "For three or four weeks leading into the march, the government and the White House worked diligently to try to get the leaders to call the march off. They were convinced that it would create violence and make it more difficult to get civil rights legislation passed."

Any concerns of violence that day did not come to fruition.

"People were able to gather in an orderly manner," he said. "The thing I think has not been talked about is if you go back and look at the footage, you will see men getting off in suits and ties, hats on, and women dressed up.

"These people are packed in there like sardines. You've got to imagine that from 9 o'clock in the morning to the early evening," he added. "What commitment and focus these people demonstrated. There was no disorder, no arrests. This whole idea with Dr. King and non-violence, this was perhaps the most overt demonstration of non-violence you could expect."

In its next day's edition, the Washington Post made no mention of the "I Have a Dream" speech other than to say Dr. King was among the day's speakers. 

Even though history had yet to chronicle the significance of Dr. King's speech, Raveling still was mindful that the document given to him by its author was special.

And to safeguard it, he placed the historical document in another historical document, a biography of former President Harry S. Truman. 

But this was no ordinary biography.

While a senior at Villanova, Raveling was participating in the East-West College All-Star Game at Kansas City, Missouri.

"They took us out to Independence, Missouri to meet former President Truman," Raveling said. "When we first walked in the room I noticed there were two tables with books stacked up; subsequently, when we were leaving, he gave us a two-volume collection.

"We had them personally signed," he continued. "Mine says, 'To George Raveling from Harry S. Truman.' It has the date on there and the presidential seal." 

Because of the sentimental value the book held, it made an ideal place to put the speech.

"Not many people can say they have two books that the President of the United States autographed to them," he said. 

Ironically, it's asking for an autograph that Raveling equates to why he asked Dr. King for the speech.

"I’d like to come up with some fancy story that I had it all planned," he said. "But I didn’t. It was just an impulse thing that I did.

"I was a big fan of his before this," Raveling added. "He was one of my mentors before I ever knew what mentors were. I was always interested in his style, and the content in his message.

"If I could equate it to anything," Raveling said of asking for the speech, "it's like me walking up to Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson and say, 'Could I have your autograph.'"

As he reflects a half century later, what impact does the speech have for Raveling?

"When you look back on it, black folks have made some significant advances and perhaps the most overt example is you have a black person as the President of the United States," he said. "But with that said, I think Dr. King would be the first to point out that while we made significant steps there is still an awful lot of work to be done. 

"We've got a lot of work to do before we’re ever be able to realize what Dr. King said in his speech,” Raveling added, "when he said that he dreamed of one day when little black girls and little white girls and little black boys and little white boys would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

If he was coaching today, and after he showed his players the "I Have a Dream" speech, it turns out Raveling would tell his players something.

"If I had a group of athletes I would let them see visually what was transpiring and to understand the people who made enormous sacrifices," he said. "There are tons of untold people who lie in graves now and gave their lives so that these athletes can enjoy the privileges that they have in America today. 

"I would try to get athletes to understand that while they feel a lot more comfortable about their environment and the opportunity to excel, they still have a huge responsibility to their country, and to their race, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem."

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