Former Iowa coach has protected MLK speech for 50 years

Raveling stood near King Jr. as dream speech was delivered

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Published: August 28 2013 | 5:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 7:39 pm in
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The response to a question during a 1984 interview between former Gazette sports reporter Bob Denney and former Iowa men's basketaball coach George Raveling is garnering national attention nearly 30 years later.

The question of whether Raveling, the University of Iowa's first African-American coach, took part in the Civil Rights movement, spurred Raveling to find the speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used during his Aug. 28, 1963 "I have a dream" speech.

Raveling, who stood near King as he delivered the speech, tucked the speech into a book, where it remained for nearly 20 years.

The story was featured on CBS News in commemoration of the historic march and speech, while a copy of Denney's Jan. 15, 1984 report can be found below.

A Day Raveling won't forget: King gave his copy of famous ’63 speech to him

By Bob Denney, The Gazette

News bulletins interrupted regular programming that humid August afternoon in 1963. The march on Washington was 24 hours away.

George Raveling, then a 26-year-old employee of Sun Oil Company and a part-time assistant basketball coach at Villanova University, felt he had to be there.

He wasn’t content to witness the historic event from a distance, either. Raveling was no less brash in his youth, and he boldly pushed his way through the masses to the podium. He even was photographed standing next to Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

When King finished his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Raveling approached the 34-year-old civil rights leader. “I said, ‘Dr. King, may I have that copy of your speech?’ He handed it to me.”

Today, the 55th anniversary of King’s birthday, Raveling still has that copy of the speech.

“The civil rights movement was the only movement I ever identified with,” says Raveling, now head basketball coach at the University of Iowa. “I never saw it in me to identify with the Korean situation or Vietnam, or other struggles college students tend to manifest themselves in.

“Part of the reason I identified with civil rights was obviously my blackness. But more importantly, of the charisma of Martin Luther King. He galvanized the blacks together like no modern black leader has (before) or since.”

The copy of the speech that King handed to Raveling is typewritten in blue ink on white legal-size paper. The two decades since that moment have taken their toll on the text. Humidity has yellowed sections.

“it was typed out and it was obvious after reading it and looking back over it a couple times since then that he used it as a protective aid, like I do, I have a speech written out, (and) sometimes I glance at it when I lose my place,” Raveling said.

“It’s what I call a security blanket in case I go blank. It was obvious that he ad libbed a lot from it, too.”

The speech was essentially the same text that King had delivered a week earlier in Detroit.

According to biographer Jim Bishop in “The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” King had not intended to the Detroit phrase about a dream, but at a point (actually about five minutes before closing) King reversed himself and strode boldly into the most memorable part of his speech.

The point of King’s takeoff shows up on Raveling’s manuscript as a phrase that was underlined and marked with an asterisk: “Let us go down from this place to ascend other peaks of purpose. Let us descend from this mountaintop to climb other hills of hope.”

The ad lib started off this way:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

“The dense crowd came alive,” Bishop reported. “It caught the cadence. It whooped and hollered as though Moses himself had come down from the Mount to tell them what life was going to be like.”

Raveling and his best friend, Warren Wilson, who was 18 at the time, had become inspired to take the trip while watching television at Wilson’s home in Claymont, Del.

“The more we watched, the more we realized we belonged there as young blacks and 9that) history was going to be made,” he said. “Spontaneously, we said, ‘We got to go.’”

The two began the 125-mile auto trip at 10 the night before King’s address. They arrived about midnight and found lodging at a motel on the perimeter of the march area.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Raveling. He was born in the nation’s capital, spending nine years there before the death of his father, George Raveling Sr., and the subsequent illness of his mother. He had lived in an apartment across from a famous black entertainer’s hangout – Shepp’s Market.

After checking in, Raveling said, “Hey, let’s go downtown and see what’s going on.”

Police and march security ordered all visitors off the streets. Barriers were still being erected for the crowds around the Lincoln Memorial. Raveling met an official and struck up a conversation. The official asked Raveling and Wilson if they wanted to be marshals.

Soon, the official returned with credentials, including caps, badges and an order about when to return in the morning.

Raveling and Wilson awoke the next morning and rushed back to the memorial.

The previous estimate of the crowd was way off. A multitude of 210,000 descended that afternoon, many wilting in the 84-degree temperature.

“We just started to work and kind of maneuvered our way up to the platform where Martin Luther King was going to speak,” Raveling said. On his way to the platform, Raveling rubbed shoulders with entertainers Mahalia Jackson and Harry Belmonte, author James Baldwin, singer Brooke Benton, and King’s “right-hand man,” Dr. Ralph Abernathy.

“There was a lot of confusion, and as long as you had proper credentials, you were allowed in.”

Wilson Died in 1968. His father, Dr. Woodrow Wilson, told The Gazette Saturday that he couldn’t believe what transpired at the march.

“My daughter Marcia was teaching some underprivileged children in Baltimore and she took them and they stood miles from the platform.” Wilson said. “But, George, Ha! He walks up and is right on the man’s (King’s) shoulder.”

The afternoon drew on. King wasn’t scheduled to speak until 3:30 p.m. Many marchers left because of the heat. Once King began to speak, the crowd became quiet.

Raveling and Wilson positioned themselves near King’s chair and listened.

After completing his speech, King picked up his notes, and stepped back to his seat. The crowd was stunned – and silent.

“Then, before Dr. A Philip Randolph began the benediction,” Bishop wrote, “the people went wild, screaming, waving placards by the hundreds, smashing them to the ground… knowing in its collective heart that ‘I Have a Dream’ would stand as one of the most moving speeches of modern times.”

The Civil Rights movement and particularly King were a tremendous inspiration to Raveling.

“Not just because he was a civil rights leader, but because he was a great orator,” said Raveling, who weathered many instances of discrimination while a basketball player at Villanova.

Raveling’s copy of King’s speech that day is part of a collection of civil rights speeches he has obtained over the past 20 years. It’s as good a collection as anyone has in the country, he said.

But the King Speech is special.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” said Raveling. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him.”

“That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’

“As years go by, more and more people say they were there,” Raveling said. “In fact, if the people who said they were there were really there, the crowd would have been half the earth’s population.

“But, you know, I have physical proof I was there.”

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