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Why Does Coach George Raveling Own MLK’s Original Copy of the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech?

Athletes manned the front lines of the social justice campaign this week, causing numerous postponements of games led by NBA players. Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James may have participated in an unprecedented moment, but neither experienced history the way George Raveling did on Aug. 28, 1963, standing alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Raveling, a longtime college basketball coach who retired more than a quarter of a century ago, has owned the civil rights leader’s personal copy of the memorable and important speech for 57 years.

He obtained it just by asking MLK for it.

George Raveling enjoyed a rich coaching career

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George Raveling was on his way to 500 wins in Division I basketball when his coaching career ended due to a serious car accident in September 1994. Though only 57 at the time, Raveling made the decision to retire in order to focus on his recovery from multiple broken bones and internal injuries.

Raveling served as head coach at three schools. After 10 years as an assistant at Villanova and Maryland, he landed the head coaching job at Washington State in 1972. After compiling a 167-136 mark there, Raveling moved on to Iowa and went 55-38 in three seasons.

USC came calling in 1986 after the school fired Stan Morrison. When some players hesitated over committing to play for Raveling, he revoked the scholarships of emerging stars Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers. The pair went on to star at Loyola Marymount while Raveling started a rebuild. After a 38-78 mark through four years, Raveling’s teams went 73-40 in his final four seasons.

Outside of the college ranks, Raveling assisted Booby Knight with the U.S. Olympic Team that won a gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984 and John Thompson with the bronze-medal squad in Seoul four years later.

MLK hands George Raveling his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

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George Raveling, 26 years old and an assistant at Villanova, traveled to Washington, D.C., in late August 1963 to participate in the March on Washington. The day before the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, someone approached Raveling and a friend to ask if they could assist with security, according to Sports Business Daily. Raveling stood on the podium for the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“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.”

George Raveling

When King finished speaking and walked toward the back of the podium, Raveling spontaneously asked King if he could have his copy of the speech. King gave him three typewritten pages. The pages would remain tucked inside a personally inscribed copy of a book by Harry Truman – the coach has been a collector of such keepsakes — in Raveling’s house for 20 years.

A reporter’s question about the civil rights movement when Raveling took the Iowa coaching job in 1983 prompted Raveling to go looking for the book and the speech. That passage of time caused him to further appreciate the magnitude of King’s words that day.

But he also suddenly realized that he was in possession of an amazing piece of history. Mimeographed copies of the speech had been distributed to hundreds of reporters that day, but Raveling owned the original.

It has remained in a bank vault since.

The words ‘I Have a Dream’ do not appear on the original copy

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Sports Illustrated reporter Seth Davis did the definitive story about George Raveling and his connection to the speech in 2015. According to Davis, Raveling feels the original speech belongs to the nation and that he is its caretaker. For that reason, the retired coach’s will says that Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will pass to his son and cannot be sold.

Numerous people have approached Raveling to try buying the historically significant document. He has turned down all offers. Sports Business Daily reported that one appraisal suggested a value of $24 million.

Interestingly, the words “I Have a Dream” are not part of the typed content on the three-page document that Raveling possesses because King improvised from the podium. Former aides told USA Today that the assassinated civil rights leader typically made last-minute, hand-written edits to his speeches. However, Raveling’s copy contains no such notations.

That raises the possibility that Raveling possesses a version handed to him by King, but not necessarily the document King referred to during his speech. If King kept a second copy that he marked up, it was lost long ago.

What sets Raveling’s copy apart from any other in existence is that his contains no copyright notation. The reporters’ version contains that notation. That’s considered crucial in confirming the authenticity as an original.