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D.C. Native Guardian of MLK 'Dream' Speech

Dorothy Rowley | 8/21/2013, 2:52 p.m.
George Raveling (right) shares with CBS correspondent James Brown how he came into possession of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. (Courtesy of insidesocal.com)

As people from across the country prepared last weekend to flock to the nation's capital for participation in Saturday's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, another story about the historic event was being retold in a TV interview.

During the Aug. 18 broadcast of CBS's "Sunday Morning," George Raveling, a former basketball coach and Nike executive, shared with correspondent James Brown how he became the owner of the famous speech Dr. Martin Luther King delivered Aug. 28, 1963 on the National Mall in D.C.

Raveling, now 76, and a native of the District of Columbia, was a 26-year-old basketball standout at Villanova living in Wilmington, Del., when he and his best friend Warren Wilson were encouraged to attend the march. They were having dinner at the home of Dr. Woodrow and Lucile Wilson and, at their urging, used the couple's car to drive to the District. The next day, Raveling and Wilson would the join the legions of people who would be a part of a rally for jobs and freedom.

King, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was among the march's organizers. At the urging of the famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, King stepped to the podium late in the day to talk about his dream for racial equality.

"Of course nobody, including myself, realized that this was going to take on the historical significance that it did," Raveling was quoted as saying in another interview.

In his conversation with Brown, Raveling said that upon arriving at the Lincoln Memorial he was asked to be a volunteer, providing security at the podium where King and others would speak.

Raveling ended up standing to the immediate left of King.

"I would suggest seven or eight security people away," Raveling said, adding that after the speech people were wildly cheering.

"He was just folding the paper, and I said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy of the speech?' He turned and handed it to me, and just as he did, a rabbi on the other side came up and congratulated him and it was over," Raveling, a retired head coach at the University of Southern California, recalled.

But as time went on, the significance of the speech never dawned on Raveling, and when returned home, he simply placed it in a book — and forgot about it.

Subsequently, the three-page, typewritten document that bore no title remained tucked away in Raveling's basement until one day in 1984, when he was interviewed about being the first black head basketball coach at the University of Iowa.

"[The reporter] said to me, 'Were you ever involved in the civil rights movement?'" Raveling recounted. "I said, 'well, kinda.' And he asked, 'What do you mean?' So I told him the story, and he said, 'You have the speech?"

The article about Raveling was published with a photo of him standing next to King, during what has become the civil rights icon's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

As a gift to Raveling, the reporter had the speech framed. While the document — currently locked in a bank vault — appears to be in good shape, it doesn't include the wording, "I have a dream." To that end, Raveling told Brown that the speech is marked with an asterisk where King began ad-libbing the phrase.

Raveling said he's been contacted in the past by "someone" who said they represented the King family to have the speech become part of a museum collection.

But he said they could never come to the agreement that he would always be its owner, although Raveling stressed that he would still consider placing the document on display if he could find the right match.

He said that he's been offered as much as $3.5 million, but refuses to sell his piece of history. Instead, at his death, the speech will be inherited by his son with the stipulation that it will never be sold.

"The speech belongs to America. The speech belongs to black folks and it would be sacrilegious of me to try to sell it or try to profit from it," Raveling said to Brown. "I would like to think somewhere out there, my mom and dad and my grandmother taught me better than that. Everything in life can't equate in money."