On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. The march, which was spearheaded by a coalition of several civil rights groups, brought together an estimated quarter-million people. It was organized to demand the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, the elimination of racial segregation in public schools, protection for demonstrators against police brutality, among other reasons.
King’s I Have A Dream, which is regarded as one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history, would become the highlight of the march. Today, the original copy of that speech is owned by Hall of Fame college basketball coach George Raveling, who has turned down millions of dollars to sell it.
Raveling was 26 and was working as a marketing analyst for the Sun Oil Co. when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. was organized. Days before the march, he and a friend, Warren Wilson, were having dinner at Wilson’s home in Claymont, Delaware. Wilson’s father, Dr. Woodrow Wilson, a well-known dentist in Wilmington, asked Raveling and Wilson if they were going to be present at the march. The two young men said no.
“He asked us why and we gave him a little adolescent excuse, we didn’t have any money,” Raveling recalled in an interview with The Undefeated.
He said Wilson’s father gave them some money and one of his cars for them to go to the march, insisting that they had to be there because the march was “historic”. By Friday evening, Raveling and Wilson had arrived in Washington. They decided to go for a walk around the city. In the process, they met a march organizer who asked them if they were going to the march the next day. “We said yes.”
The march organizer then asked the two if they could assist with security. Agreeing to the proposal, the march organizer signed Raveling and his friend up to the podium. Raveling, at 6 feet, 4 inches and more than 200 pounds, would stand near King and other Black leaders on the podium on the day of the march.
“All the speakers were limited to five minutes, and they said that if you violate it, they were going to shut the mike down,” Raveling said of the speeches that were given that day. “…They didn’t want anything that was very inflammatory, they didn’t want to get the crowd out of control.”
And then the phenomenal moment arrived, when King gave his iconic I Have A Dream speech. “I was mesmerized. By the time King was halfway through, he had the audience in his back pocket. It was the largest gathering in the history of America of black people in one place. We knew it was a moment in history, we just didn’t realize how big,” Raveling recalled.
“At the end of the speech, as Dr. King finished and started to fold his speech, as he walked away, I just said — I don’t know why, just impulsively said: ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And he turned and handed it to me.”
Interestingly, the words “I Have A Dream” are not part of the three typewritten pages King gave to Raveling. As it’s perhaps well known, King improvised from the podium, and that made his speech even more magical.
Raveling kept the original copy of the speech he was given in a personally signed autobiography from President Harry Truman that the ex-president gave to Raveling after his senior year at Villanova. He said he kept the speech in that book because he knew he would never throw the book away.
For almost 25 years, no one was aware that Raveling had the original copy of King’s speech until 1983 when he was named head coach at the University of Iowa. He said a reporter doing a magazine profile mentioned it in his story. Raveling had at the time already started making history himself. Before coaching at Iowa, he became the first African-American head basketball coach in what was then the Pacific-8 Conference at Washington State in 1972, according to The Undefeated.
He ended his coaching career at the University of Southern California. Raveling was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Two years later, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame before becoming Nike’s director of international basketball.
To date, many people have offered millions of dollars to get the historic I Have A Dream speech but Raveling, knowing he is in possession of an incredible piece of history, has turned down those offers. The speech has remained in a Los Angeles bank vault since. According to a report by Sports Illustrated, Raveling’s will states that the speech will pass to his son and cannot be sold.