Villanova Becomes New Steward of “I Have a Dream” Speech

Mr. Raveling with the original copy of MLK's speech.

On Aug. 27, students, staff, alumni and other community members were informed by University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. of Villanova’s new role as permanent steward of the original copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s momentous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

The announcement, released on the eve of the speech’s 58th anniversary, described how the document came into the University’s possession—through its former steward, George Raveling. 

Raveling graduated from the University in 1960 and was a former men’s basketball player and assistant coach. He attended the famous March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963 on a whim, agreeing to volunteer as a member of the security staff the day before the march. In a stroke of luck, fate or coincidence, Raveling found himself face-to-face with King just after he spoke and asked for the copy of his speech. King obliged, and Raveling has been in possession of the speech for the past 58 years. 

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,” Raveling said, recalling the moment in a 2015 interview with Sports Illustrated.

Clearly, however, the speech’s historic significance quickly became more apparent as a major call to action during the Civil Rights Movement. Likewise, Raveling held a consequential role as the document’s keeper.

According to Donohue’s announcement, Raveling, who also served as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2016, has repeatedly articulated his wish to pass stewardship to the University, holding dear the years of instruction, community and Augustinian values instilled in him during his time as a student and coach. 

“Thanks to a group of dedicated alumni who were instrumental in ensuring George’s wishes were met, and who were committed to fulfilling a shared vision of the landmark speech’s importance, Villanova has been entrusted to provide broad access to all those who seek to learn from and be inspired by Dr. King’s words,” Donohue said. 

The University has entered into a collaboration with the Smithsonian and the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. to fulfill the mission of making the document broadly accessible. As part of a long-term loan agreement with the University, the speech will be displayed at the museum as part of the new “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom” exhibit.

On campus, reactions to the University’s new role as the speech’s steward ranged from shocked to ecstatic to humbled. 

“I’m very surprised, but so happy,” sophomore Melanie Gonzalez said. “It’s such an honor that we will be able to see and approach something so meaningful.”

Sophomore Kaya Robinson too, was initially shocked at the news but sees the honor as progress toward greater diversity and inclusion efforts are made on campus. 

“It’s nice to have an artifact from the African American community,” Robinson explained. “It also seems fitting alongside recent initiatives the school has undertaken in the past few years to promote racial equity.”

Terry Nance, associate professor and Chief Diversity Officer for Villanova, expanded on the speech’s significance as a symbol of hope and progress.

“This speech is such an important piece of history,” Nance asserted. “It’s almost like we are now the custodians of ‘the dream’.”

Nance emphasized, too, that this stewardship role should be anything but passive for members of the Villanova community, referencing the Augustinian values of justice, inclusion and action the institution was founded on.

“Our mission is not an inactive one—it calls us to action and to serve the underserved,” Nance said. “Likewise, the speech should be calling us to become a beacon of change. Real change, ideal change, doesn’t happen if you don’t take time to dream.”

The speech, when not on loan to the National Museum of African American History or other like institutions, will permanently reside on campus in a location yet to be determined.