Martin Luther King Day always takes former college basketball coach George Raveling back to a special time in his life: the 1963 March on Washington. It was there where Raveling had an experience like none of the hundreds of thousands in the crowd.
As a 26-year-old coach at Villanova in Philadelphia, Raveling decided four days before the rally to volunteer. He had no idea that he would be posted just several feet from Dr. King as he delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, one of the most famous speeches in American history.
Further, when it was over, after King had inspired the masses in his eloquent way, Raveling found himself face-to-face with someone he considered an icon way back then.
“I was in total awe,” he recounted to Sports Illustrated.
“Dr. King,” Raveling said, pointing at the papers, “can I have that?”
Without hesitation, King handed Raveling the speech, and suddenly there was a mass of people between them.
Raveling folded the papers and slid them in his pocket.
“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” he said to SI.
But he was not totally oblivious to his new possession, either. He said he stored it in a biography of former president Harry S. Truman that Truman signed for him in Kansas City.
Over the years, as Raveling ascended into a top coach of major programs at Iowa and USC, he told the story of his encounter with King. And the more he told it, the more he realized the value of those three sheets of paper.
They told of King’s oratorical brilliance and his amazing sense of his audience. Reading the speech, which had been passed out and stamped to much of the media in attendance at the Mall in D.C., Raveling noticed that the words “I Have A Dream” were not on the pages.
King improvised it on the spot.
When he came to, “And so today, let us go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction,” King went off script. He stopped reading and started speaking.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” he said. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. . . .”
The improvisation lasted two minutes, 40 seconds. When he was done, history had been made as the enormous crowd roared.
Raveling? “I just froze and was totally locked in on what he was saying.”
But he was in tune enough to ask for and receive what is now a coveted document.
He used to keep it framed and mounted on his office wall and then in his home. But his wife, Delores, understanding the value of the papers, urged him to find a safer place. It is now stored in a bank vault in Los Angeles.
How much are King’s papers worth? Raveling, 73, received an offer from a collector for $3 million. He passed.
“At this point in my life, what difference does it make?” he told SI. “I’m not rich, but it’s not like I’m poor, either.”
More than that, he knew selling it would reduce the experience of being there, encountering King and receiving the papers directly from the Civil Rights icon.
When King was assassinated, Raveling, like much of the world, was crestfallen—and changed.
“It couldn’t have been any worse if it was a family member,” he said. “For the first time in my life I looked at race from a totally different perspective than I had earlier. I began to understand that there were people out there who disliked us so much that they would kill us.”