An awesome thing to have laying around, y’know
The only thing nearly as great and awesome as the actual I Have A Dream speech, and celebrating its significance on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, is probably the story of former All-American Villanova basketball player George Raveling, who was in Washington D.C. with a friend to join the march, and how he happened across the original copy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech.
Raveling was in D.C. with a friend to join in the now historic event when one of the march organizers approached them to gauge their interest in working security, presumably because of their athletic build. Raveling accepted, and arrived early to the march the next day, which is when he was asked to be one of the people surrounding Dr. King Jr. himself when he took the podium–in footage of King’s speech Raveling can be seen, stoic.
After the King delivered his speech–which didn’t initially contain the ‘I have a dream’ bit–he was ushered off the podium, and Raveling thought quickly on his feet. A Time story details the fateful events that happened next.
“King had just happened to be the last speaker,” Raveling says. “And as he began delivering the prepared text he saw that he was really capturing the crowd. That’s when Mahalia Jackson began egging him on. If you listen carefully to the speech you can her a woman’s voice in the back saying, ‘Please Martin tell them about the Dream.’ She was saying it constantly. It was like going to church on Sunday at a black church and people are making little remarks. From that point on he didn’t read the speech, he only used it as a guidepost. King ended his oration with the unforgettable line: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” With sweat pouring out of him, he stepped back, blotted his forehead with a handkerchief, and waved farewell as he headed off the crowded makeshift platform. That’s when Raveling made his move. “I was only about four people off to the side of King,” he remembers. “I don’t know what possessed me but I walked up to King and calmly asked ‘Can I have that copy?’ Without hesitating he turned and handed it to me.
What’s even more mind-blowing, is that for 20 years, Raveling didn’t realize that he had the original copy of one of the most powerful speeches any individual has ever delivered on American soil pretty much laying around the house. He didn’t remember until a reporter asked Raveling about being involved in the historic day about two decades after it happened. He now keeps the speech locked up in a bank vault in Los Angeles.
Also, that bit about King’s speech not originally containing the ‘I have a dream bit?’ It didn’t. He’d used the now iconic phrase several times in previous speeches and public appearances, but it wasn’t part of the original transcript. Cue in the late, great Mahalia Jackson, who urged King to “tell them about the dream” before he got off the podium, which led King to improvise that part into his speech.