A former Washington State University coach didn’t just witness history 50 years ago when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He walked away with a piece of it.
“I have a dream, that one day my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today,” King proclaimed on August 28, 1963.
In a defining moment for America, the clergyman and activist spoke before 250,000 civil rights supporters calling for an end to racism during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“As I look back now I can feel a little nervousness inside my body, a little tremor, because I certainly view it a lot differently than I did then,” says George Raveling.
Back then, Raveling was a 26-year-old former college basketball star. The volunteer ended up with a coveted spot near the podium for King’s speech at the last minute.
Raveling stood to the left of King about “seven or eight security people away from him.”
The amazing part of Raveling’s story begins when the speech ends.
When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’
Amid the loud applause, Raveling moved closer to King.
“People started to stand and I walked over and 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,” Raveling recalls. “Just as he did, a rabbi on the other side came up to congratulated him and it was over. It happened that quick.”
Something he knows about the speech, from seeing a copy of it, that most of us don’t know, is that a few famous words aren’t found anywhere on the pages.
“It doesn’t have a title. It’s not identified as ‘I Have a Dream.’ You can simply see the date and you’ll see that he pretty much followed the script,” he says, “until he begins ad libbing.”
King had used the phrase “I have a dream” earlier in speeches in Michigan and North Carolina. It was a singer in the crowd, Mahalia Jackson, who encouraged King to go back to it when she called out to him in mid-speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin, tell ’em about the dream!”
King paused and pushed aside his prepared text and began to speak extemporaneously, electrifying the crowd and those who watched on television.
Raveling tucked three typewritten pages he received from Rev. King in a book and didn’t think about it again.
He went on to become the head basketball coach at Washington State University from 1972 to 1983. In the late 1980s, when Raveling became the first black coach at the University of Iowa, a reporter asked him if he was ever involved in the civil rights movement.
Raveling told the story about owning King’s famous speech. Later that day, he looked for the typewritten pages and found them – still tucked inside a book about Harry Truman.
After that Raveling had the speech framed and stored in a bank vault.
He’s been offered as much as $3.5 million for it. A recent USA Today story quoted a rare documents historian as claiming they could easily be valued in the $25 million price range.
He’ll never sell it.
“I’d like to think my mom and dad and my grandma taught me better than that,” Raveling says, noting that the speech belongs to the American people. “Everything in life you can’t equate with money.”
Next week, Raveling will be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame and will receive a lifetime achievement award.
Raveling guided the WSU basketball through two NCAA tournament appearances during his 11 years. He was one of the most successful coaches at WSU with 167 career wins and 136 losses.
“Be the right person, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing with the right people!”
By LINDA THOMAS
CBS News contributed to this report