Museum News

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Original “I Have a Dream” Speech on Display for the First Time at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

August 27, 2021
Bettmann / Contributor/ Getty Images

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will display the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original speech from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This announcement kicks off a season of celebrating the museum’s fifth anniversary on Sept. 24 and highlights its ongoing mission to tell American history through the lens of the African American experience. The museum will showcase the artifact in the “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom” gallery beginning Aug. 28, commemorating the day of the march. The speech, on loan from Villanova University, will be on view in a newly installed case alongside other objects associated with King.   

“Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is rightly regarded as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement, and one of the most famous and influential orations of the American history,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Seeing the speech in person only reinforces the ways that King was a brilliant rhetorician and inspiring leader—his words not only resonate today, but we can see how this version of his remarks was just a starting point for him to transform the podium into a pulpit, the speech into a sermon on history and hope, and the occasion into one for the ages.” 

Image of the March leaders at the Lincoln Memorial 

Image of the March leaders at the Lincoln Memorial 

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Kitty Kelley and the Estate of Stanley Tretick

“This artifact is one of several drafts of the speech written by King and his advisors hours before the march began,” said Kevin Strait, curator at the museum. “The speech was slotted to be a four-minute closing to the march; however, it became a powerful 16-minute rallying cry for the entire civil rights movement.”

For decades, King’s speech has been in the possession of former collegiate basketball player and coach George Raveling, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, who was volunteering as security at the 1963 March on Washington. Raveling never intended to be on stage with King, let alone receive what would become one of the most famous speeches ever given. He was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Villanova University in 1963 when he and a friend, Warren Wilson, traveled to Washington, D.C., to hear Dr. King speak. On the day before the speeches, Wilson and Raveling were asked to volunteer as security. They accepted, and the following day they were on stage with the likes of John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph and King. According to Raveling, only pure impulse compelled him to ask King for his copy of the speech, and King gave it to him.

Recently, Villanova University became the steward of the artifact and has entered into a long-term loan agreement with the museum to display the speech. In addition to the speech, the museum has several objects related to King, including the Congressional Gold Medal awarded posthumously to King and Coretta Scott King in 2014, a laundry pail used by King during the march from Selma to Montgomery and a program from King’s funeral at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. 

About the National Museum of African American History and Culture 
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000. 

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Media Contact(s): 

Jason Spear 202-445-7456; spearj@si.edu  
Shrita Hernandez  202-263-5089; hernandezs@si.edu           

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.