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January 31, 2012


MRH to Host Presentation by Rev. Billy Kyles in Honor of Black History Month

Rev. Billy KylesDistinguished national speaker, pastor and civil rights leader, the Rev. Billy Kyles, is recognized as a both participant in, and a valuable resource on, the Civil Rights Movement. An eyewitness to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Kyles is the last remaining person to have spent the final hour of Dr. King’s life with him.

On Thursday, February 2, 2012 Rev. Kyles will present a community-wide talk at Maplewood Richmond Heights School District to celebrate Black History Month. His presentation “The Power of a Dream” will recall those fateful moments and the days leading up King’s assassination.

  • View a video about Rev. Billy Kyles.
  • Download a flyer about the presentation.

The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles was born in Shelby, Mississippi on September 26, 1934. Young Kyles started preaching at the age of 17 and moved to Memphis to lead the Monumental Baptist Church in 1959. Kyles quickly became a member of his local NAACP branch and joined 100 other pastors in the fight for racial equality and the desegregation of Memphis. He led protests in Memphis, which challenged the segregations of the local parks and local bus system which resulted in his arrest.

In 1968 Kyles helped form and lead an effort to gain community support for striking sanitation workers. The group looked to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to rally support and lead the workers' march. When the first march ended in violence, King decided there would be another peaceful march. Kyles, along with other Memphis ministers who had been organizing nightly rallies and raising money for the strike, planned a major rally to prepare for another march. The rally, held at the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, was the meeting that King gave his now famous "mountaintop" speech, foreshadowing his own assassination.

The following day, Kyles was to host King for dinner at his home. Kyles went to the Lorraine Motel to pick up his dinner guest at 5:00 p.m. There, Kyles talked with Ralph Abernathy and King for an hour before leaving the motel for dinner at 6:00 p.m. As the two were leaving the motel, King was assassinated. Kyles and Abernathy spent the last hour of King's life with him in his hotel room. When Abernathy passed away in 1990, Kyles became the only living person to have been with King during the last hour of his life.

After the Civil Rights Movement, Kyles continued his involvement in the church and civil rights work. During the early 1970s, he became a founding member of the National Board of Operation Push and the executive director of Rainbow Push in Memphis, working with its founder, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Kyles went on to be a regional organizer for Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. During the 1990s, Kyles was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. In 1992, Kyles was recognized with the Tennessee Living Legend Award. Kyles has also appeared in several documentaries about the life and assassination of King and has toured the country, speaking about King's life and legacy.

“The Power of a Dream” is sponsored by the MRH African American Advisory Council and MRH Cornerstone Project.

Update: View photos from Rev. Kyles' visit to MRH.

For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.