The Original Copy Of MLK's 'I Have A Dream' Speech Was Saved By Sheer Happenstance

Since his first public speech at the young age of 15, Martin Luther King Jr. has inspired millions across the world (via Macon Telegraph). During his lifetime, he gave more than 2,500 public speeches, and one of his most powerful was the "I Have a Dream" speech, which he presented at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, according to the NAACP.

It's one thing to hear a recording of that speech and quite another to have witnessed it in person. But what if you had an original copy of it? That's something basketball coach George Raveling got to experience firsthand, but it wasn't something he gave much thought to when the three-page speech first landed in his hands when he was just 26 years old (per USA Today). In fact, it was nothing short of a coincidence that he managed to save those pages at all, per Sports Illustrated.

The pages were kept in a book for decades

In a 2015 interview with Sports Illustrated, George Raveling explains that he was at the event that August day and found himself standing next to Martin Luther King Jr. as he wrapped up the speech. As the reverend folded up the sheets of paper, Raveling asked him if he could have them, and King handed them over. At the time, he didn't think he had anything special. "At no time do I remember thinking, Wow, we got this historic document," he says.

Raveling said that when he got home, he slipped the papers into the cover of a signed copy of Harry S. Truman's memoirs, where it sat for years, almost forgotten. In an interview with USA Today, Raveling said that he put the speech in that particular book because he knew he would never get rid of a book that contained the signature of a former president.

It's now safe in a secure location

It wasn't until some 20 years later, when Bob Denney interviewed George Raveling about being the first black basketball coach at the University of Iowa, that King's speech came up. Raveling mentioned that he heard the speech live and said he even had a copy of it. After digging around in his basement for about 15 minutes, he found it right where he left it, reports Sports Illustrated.

For a few years, the framed pages hung on a wall in Raveling's office, but as he became more well-known for having them, he decided to keep them in a bank vault for safety. In 2021, Villanova University became steward of the speech. In an announcement, the university announced that it would collaborate with the Smithsonian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. to work out exclusive, long-term loan arrangements. And when it's not on loan, it is kept in a secure location at the university.