LADERA HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) — Looking around George Raveling’s home office in Los Angeles, you can’t help but notice his assortment of awards, honors, and pictures.
But among them, an even more impressive collection of books.
“Most times I’m reading three or four books at the same time,” said Raveling, who is simply known as Coach.
His head coaching career started at Washington State in 1972. While there, he sought wisdom from the hardwood from the well-known John Wooden, affectionately known as the “Wizard of Westwood.”
“Coach Wooden was a person who always took time out to talk with me,” said Raveling, whose ear for listening to great leaders dates back to when he was a standout basketball player at Villanova University during the troubling times of the Civil Rights Movement.
Despite being a student athlete, Raveling found time to learn from a man who changed America’s consciousness: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I had never been in the presence of anyone that was serving in the public speaking role that was as electrifying and dynamic and had a message of substance like Martin Luther King did,” he said.
After graduating, Raveling got the chance of a lifetime. During the historic March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, he served as a volunteer security guard near the lectern when King delivered what many consider one of the greatest speeches in this country’s history.
“I knew it was going to be powerful. Did I know it was going to be historic? No. But I knew people would go away feeling they had been touched by the hand of God,” he said.
But then a moment happened as King ended his speech that would change Raveling’s life forever.
“Just as he was concluding, I was standing beside him at the podium and as he started to fold it … I don’t know … I’d like to give you some fancy reason why I did it … I don’t know why … but I just said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And he folded it and handed it to me,” he said.
Raveling later put the iconic speech into one of two autographed books given to him by former President Harry S. Truman.
“How many people can say they have a book personally signed by the president of the United States?” he said.
There it sat for 20 years until Raveling was interviewed by a reporter while he was head basketball coach at Iowa.
“And I explained to him about the March on Washington and he said, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got the speech?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Where is it?’ I said, ‘It’s down in the basement in a box somewhere inside a book that President Truman gave me,’ ” he said.
Raveling said when he showed it to him, he was “literally shaking when he saw it.”
Today, the 78-year-old proudly displays King’s speech.
Though he’s received basketball’s highest honor by being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the honor he is most proud of is being the guardian of King’s speech.
“Not for one second have I ever felt that I owned it,” he said. “At some point, it will be placed in a position where it can be shared and people can connect that missing piece of the puzzle to King’s legacy.”
Raveling has arranged for his son to inherit the document with the condition that it is never to be sold.