A Look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Impact on the Main Line Region

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Sixty years ago this month, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic speech at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial. Its repercussions on our region were far-reaching, and a Main Line university has a surprising role in its legacy.

Fresh from his playing days at Villanova University and on the brink of an assistant coaching job with the Wildcats, George Raveling made the journey to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was Aug. 27, 1963, the day before some 250,000 activists were expected to march and demonstrate for jobs and freedom. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be the next day’s 16th speaker.

Once at the Lincoln Memorial, Raveling was asked to volunteer as a security guard. At 8 a.m. on Aug. 28, he was assigned to the speaker’s podium area, where he’d guard King, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph and march organizer Bayard Rustin. (In press photos and footage, Raveling can be seen standing to the lower left of King.)

Now in his 80s, Raveling is no longer giving interviews. “People were electrified by his words,” he once recounted. “It was one of the most emotional times I can ever recall in my lifetime.”

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As King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ended, Raveling acted on impulse. “I said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And without saying anything, he just turned and handed it to me,” Raveling recalled. “As he did, someone came up to him and said something to him, and I stuck it in my pocket.”

George Raveling speaks at Villanova University’s 2016 commencement.
George Raveling speaks at Villanova University’s 2016 commencement. Courtesy of Villanova University.

From the early 1970s through the ’90s, Raveling would go on to become a Division I basketball coach at Maryland, Washington State, Iowa and the University of Southern California. There were also jobs as a TV analyst, positions with Nike and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Throughout Raveling’s coaching career, his framed copy of King’s speech—1,740 typed words on three pages—hung on the walls of various campus offices.

As King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ended, raveling acted on impulse: “I said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And without saying anything, he just turned and handed it to me. As he did, someone came up to him and said something to him, and I stuck it in my pocket.”

In 2016, Raveling gave the commencement speech at Villanova University, where he’d graduated in 1960. Three years before that commencement appearance, he was offered more than $3 million for the speech. He declined. In 2021, Raveling gifted one of this nation’s most historic scripts to Villanova.

For its part, the university has ensured access to the speech by collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where it’s displayed on a rotating basis. “We’re humbled and honored by this extraordinary responsibility,” said Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, in a statement released the day before the speech’s 58th anniversary in 2021. “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.”

That was the university’s final say on the matter. When not on loan, the plan is for the speech to reside in a secure location somewhere on the Villanova campus.

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“Seeing the speech in person only reinforces the ways King was a brilliant rhetorician and inspiring leader,” says Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which has welcomed more than 7 million visitors since opening on the National Mall in 2016. “His words not only resonate today, but we can see how this version of his remarks was just a starting point for him to transform the podium into a pulpit, the speech into a sermon on history and hope, and the occasion into one for the ages.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE: To generate this portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., special AI software required multiple photos of MLK as a starting point. Once those were collected, our design team went to work on the position of the body, the level of realism, the clothing, the lighting and background, and even the specific camera lens they wanted to mimic. In this case, the process involved 104 initial images. The team polished and perfected as they went along to achieve the final version’s look and style. It’s difficult work, but the results are stunning.

According to museum curator Kevin Strait, Raveling’s copy was one of several drafts written by King and his advisers hours before the march began. “Slotted to be a four-minute closing to the march, it became a powerful 16-minute rallying cry for the entire civil rights movement,” he says.

Born in 1937 and raised in Washington, D.C., George Raveling didn’t play basketball until ninth grade at St. Michael’s, a Catholic boarding school founded in 1916 as an orphanage near Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was 9, and his mother was institutionalized when he was 13. His grandmother’s employer helped get him enrolled at St. Michael’s.

Raveling has contended that he experienced no instances of bigotry until his sophomore year at Villanova. During a trip south for a game, a hotel wouldn’t allow Raveling and another Black teammate to stay there. “I remember him saying to our coach, ‘If we let n—–s stay in this hotel, white people will never stay here again,’” he’s said. “In all of my life, that was the most blatant racial situation I ever dealt with. I didn’t understand that people were dealing with these horrors on a day-to-day basis. This was the start of an awakening for me.”

Raveling found his peace on and near the basketball court. An outstanding rebounder, he set Villanova’s single-game and season rebounding records in his time. The Wildcats’ captain his senior season, Raveling was featured on the cover of the 1960 media guide. He led the team to consecutive appearances in the National Invitation Tournament in 1959 and 1960. The Philadelphia Warriors took note, selecting him in the eighth round of the 1960 NBA draft. Later, he’d author two books on rebounding drills.

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But coaching became Raveling’s true passion. After his years as an assistant at his alma mater, he moved on to the University of Maryland, where, in 1969, he became the first Black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. At Washington State from 1972 to 1983, he was the first Black basketball coach in the Pacific-8 Conference (now the Pac-12), guiding the Cougars to two NCAA tournament appearances. At Iowa, he led the Hawkeyes to consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA tournament berths in 1985 and 1986. He was the assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1991 and ’92, his USC Trojans advanced to the NCAA tournament, and the NIT in the two years after that. A serious car accident in 1994 led to his retirement. He now lives a private life in Los Angeles.

In his analysis of the typed version of the speech he witnessed 60 years ago, Raveling has pointed out many instances where King shortened sentences and changed words. But he stayed true to the basic content—until deviating on page three with the “I Have a Dream” part. “Once you have that dream, you have to work diligently to make that dream a reality,” Raveling has noted. “It made me realize that each of us, in our own manner, has a responsibility to fight injustice at any level of society.”

An Unlikely Pioneer for Fair Housing

Two days after MLK galvanized a quarter-million people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his “I Have a Dream” speech, a neighborhood in Delaware County became the steamy summer setting for the Folcroft Riots of 1963. Delmar Village erupted in three days of protest in an attempt to keep a Black couple from moving into the all-white working-class enclave. A crowd of some 1,500—including children and teens—threw rocks, eggs and fireworks at Sara and Horace Baker. Police, clergy and NAACP representatives were also targeted.

Young participants in the Folcroft Riots.
Young participants in the Folcroft Riots. Courtesy of the housing equality center of Pennsylvania.

The Bakers had found their Folcroft home thanks to Margaret Hill Collins and what eventually came to be known as Suburban Fair Housing. Established by Collins with Clarence “Mike” Yarrow and Thomas B. Harvey, the nondiscriminatory real estate brokerage firm helped integrate 100 neighborhoods in suburban Philadelphia over a 20-year span beginning in 1956. In the process, Collins’ work helped inspire the passage of Pennsylvania fair housing legislation in 1961 and the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Though she came from money, Collins certainly didn’t advertise it. She drove a dilapidated station wagon (never faster than 30 miles an hour) and lived in a converted stable in the shadow of Bryn Mawr College, where she’d earned a master’s degree in social work. For one of her many housing projects, she sodded a rowhome’s lawn with turf the college gave her. As it happened, the Black owner of that home was also named Collins. It was a coincidence not lost on the woman who spent decades paving the way for local, state and federal fair-housing initiatives.

As for the Bakers, they ultimately completed their move to Folcroft. But they were harassed so regularly that they relocated to West Mount Airy three years later. “You can’t believe something like that can happen in America,” Sara’s father told a hometown newspaper.

Sixteen years after the riots, his daughter spoke to the Wilmington Morning News. “I’m still bearing the scars of that situation,” said Sara. “You just don’t erase that.”

So as not to cause a stir, Collins frequently showed homes to black clients at night. Some prospective buyers were self-declared “no pioneer” clients uninterested moving anyplace where a hostile reaction might follow.

Sara later divorced Horace, who died in 2021. She passed in 2000, keeping her Folcroft days a secret even from her son, who found out only when he came across a box of newspaper clippings in the family’s West Mount Airy attic.

Collins died in 2006 at the age of 98. “She told me about the Bakers and the horrible time they had—broken windows, sugar in gas tanks, ghastly stuff,” says Collins’ niece Polly Aird. “She felt terrible about that, but it was also her mission in life—and nothing was going to stop her.”

From the 1950s through the ’70s, there were other, less publicized incidents in our region, including several in Upper Darby and one in Drexel Hill. In Rutledge, Delaware County, a house was burned the night before its new owner—the president of the NAACP in Chester—was to move in. In Wayne, neighbors flooded a home’s basement as a message to a Black buyer. Rachel Wentworth, executive director of the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania, has fielded recent inquiries about at least one of these incidents. A successor to Collins’ Suburban Fair Housing, the center is based in Fort Washington. Its vast service area includes Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Today, there are fewer than 100 private nonprofit fair-housing organizations doing similar work, which entails education, investigation and enforcement. Four of them are in Pennsylvania. In essence, they’re all a product of Collins’ ingenuity. “Margaret Collins was ahead of her time,” says Wentworth. “There was a lot of opposition, so for her to make concrete changes in who lived in Philadelphia’s suburbs, I don’t think she gets the credit she’s due.”

According to the self-published chronicle 20 Years of Suburban Fair Housing by George and Eunice Grier, Collins’ organization sold 342 properties in 57 different suburban communities, with help from the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia. Of those, 232 were “integration sales” to Blacks in white neighborhoods. A hundred of the integration sales had “pioneer” status, indicating the first Black buyer in the area. In all, 28 of the 100 pioneer sales were made on the Main Line, with another 40 in Delaware County.

So as not to cause a stir, Collins frequently showed homes to Black clients at night. Some prospective buyers were self-declared “no pioneer” clients not interested in moving anyplace where a hostile reaction might follow. Often, the hassles for Black buyers began when trying to secure mortgage loans and homeowners insurance.

A newspaper clipping shows Margaret Collins (right) with her first clients, sisters Clayda and Lucile Williams, both retired teachers.
A newspaper clipping shows Margaret Collins (right) with her first clients, sisters Clayda and Lucile Williams, both retired teachers. Courtesy of The Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.

Then there was the problem of tracking down listings from white owners willing to sell to Black families. The Grier book tells the story of a vacant house in King of Prussia where the son of the broker posed as a gardener so the house appeared occupied to deter a Black prospect. The broker was reprimanded, and a letter of apology went out. The house was sold to a white buyer anyway.

Among Suburban Fair Housing’s biggest successes: defeating the Main Line Board of Realtors, which had barred SFH from membership and denied it access to the Multiple Listing Service. After an eight-year legal battle, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that holding a monopoly over the MLS constituted “an unreasonable restraint of trade.”

By July 1973, Collins and her organization had MLS access. Three years later, Suburban Fair Housing was dissolved, and Collins went on to acquire and renovate abandoned houses. She hired Black contractors for repairs, then structured affordable rent-to-own arrangements with families who’d encountered difficulties purchasing a home.

The impetus for Margaret Collins’ keen interest in fair housing stemmed from her friendship with Mazie B. Hall, a Black educator and civil rights advocate who lived in the Mount Pleasant section of Wayne. In the early 1950s, the two organized Quaker-sponsored fellowship weekends, inviting Black families from the city to spend time with their white counterparts in the suburbs. “If you look at the Main Line and the entire Philadelphia area, you have a juxtaposition of vast disparities in wealth—racial and economic segregation,” says the Housing Equality Center’s Wentworth. “You also have a tradition of Quaker abolitionism—a commitment to a moral, ethical interest in advancing equality.”

Collins became a Quaker in 1945 and attended Haverford Friends Meeting. She was a descendant of Isaac Collins, an esteemed Colonial-era printer, and two founders of Haverford College. “There was a long family tradition of using your wealth to do well—and not just to live well,” says Aird, whose mother was Margaret’s younger sister. “My aunt carried it on, but she was very modest about taking credit. She claimed it was the Blacks who needed credit because they stood up and tried to move into a neighborhood.”

Margaret’s father was the third-generation president of a Philadelphia coated-paper manufacturing company. Henry Hill Collins’ 500 or so factory employees were recipients of early labor benefits and perks that included breaks for milk and cookies. He lost the family business in the Depression. After her mother died a year later, Collins and her father remodeled the big house in Bryn Mawr into 10 apartments. It was her first real estate venture.

She then moved on to her grandfather’s place, also turning that into apartments. An uncle’s pony stable became her third project and future home. “She loved architecture,” says Aird. “That interest survived in my daughter, Mary, who’s an architect. She has her great-aunt’s genes.”

Now 82, living in Washington State and working as a historian, Aird never heard her aunt discuss her work, finding out about it through her parents. “She kept remodeling house after house,” notes Aird. “The worse they were, the better she liked them. She had a heart of gold, and her work was her life. She devoted everything to it.”

Nowadays, the Housing Equality Center has shifted its focus to providing services and representation to consumers. If a caller alleges housing discrimination, white and Black testers are sent to inquire about the listing, then report back on the experience. The center also trains landlords, real estate agents, local governments and social service agencies in compliance.

“We see less blatant discriminatory behavior, and few examples of outright, explicit discrimination,” Wentworth reports. “But in terms of those claiming violations, I can’t say there’s been a decrease. Most likely there’s more knowledge of—and access to—learning about your rights.”

Visit equalhousing.org.

Chester County’s MLK Connection

Actor Colman Domingo describes a telling moment in the upcoming Netflix film Rustin. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Southern segregationist, has just spoken on the Senate floor, labeling Domingo’s character, Bayard Rustin, a communist and a pervert in a desperate attempt to derail the March on Washington. “They’re going to have to fire me, because I will not resign,” Rustin tells MLK (played by Aml Ameen) in the film. “On the day I was born Black, I was also born a homosexual. They either believe in freedom and justice for all—or they do not.”

Colman Domingo in Rustin.
Colman Domingo in Rustin. Courtesy of Netflix.

Hours later, when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rustin, his trusted adviser, looked on. To this day, King’s mammoth presence in modern history continues to loom large, while Rustin’s crucial role has been largely unheralded. A West Chester native, Rustin was a Black, openly gay, war-resisting Quaker and a member of the Young Communist League. As a result, he was among American history’s most persecuted figures.

Domingo sees that as an injustice, and he cherishes his lead role in Rustin. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity],” he says. “I’ve been such an ardent admirer of Bayard and his legacy. Everything in my own story is in his story. I know I’m the one to bring his humanity to light. I wanted to be part of making this happen.”

An even more telling moment comes at the end of Rustin. As the rest of the movement’s leaders—King, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins and others—head to the White House after the march, Bayard is left behind. “Think about that,” says Walter Naegle, Rustin’s executor and surviving life partner, who’s worked tirelessly to shine a light on his significant role in history.

Rustin is the first lead movie role for Domingo, a Philadelphia native and Temple University alum. He’s had previous supporting roles in Lincoln and Selma. The similarities between him and Rustin are uncanny. Not only is Domingo Black, left-handed and gay, as Rustin was, but he also shares some of the civil rights leader’s key personality traits. “People speak of me the same way, as a community builder who lifts others up, someone who’s caring, generous, flirtatious, gregarious and genial—that’s me,” says Domingo. “I feel like he laid his hands on my shoulders. Bayard still lives in people, and he lives in me. He’s been like a North Star for me, really.”

Domingo began researching Rustin after learning about him in the late-’90s play Civil Sex. “I was like, ‘Who is this figure that I didn’t hear of?’” Domingo recalls. “I felt like I was duped by my education. Why didn’t I know this?”

Domingo identifies with Rustin’s unselfish interest in doing the work of the movement without glorification. “He was a worker bee, and we made sure [in the film] that his sleeves were always rolled up and his necktie undone,” says Domingo.

Directed by George C. Wolfe, Rustin is the work of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. As president, Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. The film begins with dramatic images of racial turmoil from the late 1950s and early ’60s before segueing into Rustin’s plan for protests at the 1964 presidential conventions. Naegle was on set in Washington, D.C., for one scene shot on the mall to capture the morning of the march. He later attended a special screening in New York with Rachelle Horowitz, Rustin’s longtime assistant and a character in the film. “It’s fast-moving, gripping, uplifting at times,” Naegle says. “There are also moments when it’s heart-rending and difficult.”

For good reason, Naegle and Horowitz were nervous before seeing Rustin. Rustin was plagued with image problems throughout his adult life. There was his 1953 arrest on moral charges (posthumously pardoned in 2020), his communist affiliations and his two-year imprisonment as a draft-dodger. “It’s all part of the story, and we thought none of it should be dominant [in the film],” says Naegle. “There are lots of gay people, but all of that was used as obstacles to throw in his path to slow him and the movement—especially around the time of the march.

We wanted the film to be balanced appropriately. And it is, without shying away or dwelling on any one thing. It’s a blessing and preserves Bayard’s integrity. Colman gives a fine performance.”

Bayard Rustin at a press conference in 1963 relating to Martin Luther King Jr.
Bayard Rustin at a press conference in 1963. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Naegle and others continue to do everything they can to throw the spotlight on Rustin’s contributions to history. The award-winning documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is 20 years old this year, and a British documentarian is shopping around a new proposal. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, has a major Rustin exhibit planned for June of next year.

Longtime Rustin champion Michael G. Long has authored three new books. Unstoppable: How Bayard Rustin Organized the 1963 March and More Than a Dream: The Radical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are geared toward younger students. The third, Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Protest and Politics, is a collection of essays that will be available in September through New York University Press. Naegle contributed a chapter on Bayard’s grandmother Julia Davis Rustin, who raised him in West Chester.

In Rustin’s hometown, you’ll find a state historical marker on the grounds of his alma mater, Henderson High School, and Bayard Rustin High School opened in 2006. That same year, with permission from Rustin’s estate, Black LGBT community leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area founded the Bayard Rustin Coalition to foster greater Black participation in the electoral process, advance civil and human rights issues, and promote Rustin’s legacy.

Naegle continues to battle the general public’s indifference toward Rustin, who died in 1987 of a perforated appendix at age 75. “The stuff most see is Dr. King and the speech—the stuff covered in the schools—but people were doing what Rosa Parks did 10 years earlier,” he says. “I’m not knocking her part, but it’s the way history happens.”

Ever resourceful, Rustin made his own history. “He created himself in every respect,” says Domingo. “He could sing Elizabethan songs and play the lute—and football. He went against all convention. As a Black, queer man, he forged his own path, even when so many systems were against him being what he was. And it wasn’t just outsiders in white institutions, but Black folks, too. Yet he remained smartly committed to the movement.”

“Bayard still lives in people, and he lives in me. He’s been like a north star for me, really.”
—Colman Domingo, Star of Rustin

Like Naegle, Domingo hopes Rustin will do something to inspire the next generation. “The march was the doing of ordinary people—no one was a superhero,” Domingo says. “They were human beings saying, ‘We have to do this. We have to make it happen.’ This should be an inspiration to all to have a voice and use it to galvanize.”

Ultimately, it’s about fighting the systems that “keep us apart rather than bring us together,” says Domingo. “The film calls upon our higher selves to be better angels—to see how more alike we are than unalike. It’s not a gentle reminder but a wakeup call. Take a look—politically, nationally and locally—at what’s designed to keep you out and isolated. But do it like Bayard, with grace, love, joy, and that galvanizing spirit of marching and attaching yourself to your convictions.”

Related: Celebrate Black History Month Around The Main Line

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!