PGA's Bob Denney helped preserve ''I have a dream'' speech

Bob Denney and George Raveling
Denny/The PGA of America and Raveling/Getty Images
Bob Denney, now of The PGA of America, interviewed basketball coach George Raveling in 1984, and found himself holding a piece of American history.
By John Holmes
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | 4:35 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This item first appeared on PGA.com on August 28, 2013, but we are republishing it today to commemorate the 2014 celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's ''I Have a Dream'' speech and there is a full day of activities taking place in Washington. D.C., to commemorate the big occasion.

Dr. King's speech remains one of the most noteworthy in American history – and it has a golf connection. Bob Denney, long a media fixture and golf historian at The PGA of America, played a significant role in preserving the actual copy of the speech that King delivered that fateful day.

The story was recounted in detail in a video feature that James Brown did for CBS News recently, and I encourage you to watch it – if you do, you'll get to see a brief glimpse of Denney rocking an excellent '80s mustache.

Here's the short version:

George Raveling, who went on to become a prominent basketball coach at schools like Washington State, Iowa and Southern California, volunteered to assist in the March on Washington back in 1963, and was assigned to help with security on the podium during the speeches. That put him very close to Dr. King and, when King finished speaking, Raveling asked if he could have the speech. 

King gave it to him. Raveling took it home, tucked it into an autobiography of Harry S Truman, and eventually forgot about it.

Fast forward a couple of decades to 1984, and Denney – then a newspaper reporter in Iowa – interviewed Raveling on the significance of becoming the first African-American head hoops coach for the Hawkeyes. He asked Raveling whether he'd been involved in the Civil Rights movement, and Raveling told him the story.

Denney asked if he still had the speech. ''And I said, 'Yeah.' And even at that point, it still didn't dawn on me there was anything unusual about it,'' Raveling told Brown. ''And so he got all excited, he said, 'Well, where is it?'''

Raveling retrieved the book out of his basement – and there was the speech, folded in half, slightly discolored but still in good shape.

Denney borrowed the speech, and wrote his article – and, as a gift, had the speech framed for Raveling. It remains in that same frame today.

"It doesn't have a title ... It's not identified as 'I have a dream.' You can simply see the date and the time,'' said Raveling of the speech, which runs a mere three pages on paper. ''You'll see that he pretty much followed the script." 

Until, of course, King began speaking extemporaneously, stretching what had been written as four minutes of remarks into a 16-minute tour de force.

Raveling now keeps the speech in a bank vault, and plans to pass it down to his son upon his death – with the condition that it never be sold. 

"The speech belongs to America, the speech belongs to black folks," he said. "It doesn't belong to me, and it would be sacrilegious of me to try and sell it to profit from it."

Denney remains circumspect about his role.

"A past chapter of my professional life suddenly turns up in the news, and I am thankful for having met George Raveling,'' he wrote in an email. ''He was beyond a coach; he remains a Renaissance man.''