Request offered for Civil Rights historical marker
by Paisley Boston
Sep 04, 2013 | 1398 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In Tuesday's Bolivar County Board of Supervisors meeting, a request was made for a historical marker to be placed for former Civil Rights worker Samuel "Billy" Kyles.

Near the end of the meeting, Supervisor Preston Billings said, "This is not listed on the agenda but there is a young woman who has something that she would like to present and I think that it is worth hearing."

Vivian Patton, retired educator from West Bolivar School District in Rosedale., said, "I think Reverend Kyles should be saluted with a marker as a political figure and icon."

Patton said Kyles is a former resident of Shelby, who has served as a distinguished national speaker, pastor and civil rights leader.

She said he has been recognized as both a participant in, and a valuable resource on, the Civil Rights Movement.

Patton said Kyles was an eyewitness to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the last living person to have spent the final hour of King's life with him.

"He is a great Civil Rights worker and I want the members of the board to write a letter to (Sen. Willie Simmons); requesting a marker for him. He deserves a marker for his outstanding contributions to the Civil Rights movement," added Patton.

Kyles was born in Shelby on Sept. 26, 1934, to Ludie "Queen" Kyles and Rev. Joseph Henry Kyles.

In 1968, Kyles helped form and lead an effort to gain community support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis.

After Memphis workers, protesting low wages and inhumane work conditions, were on strike, the group looked to King for support and to lead them in a march.

When the march ended in violence, King decided there would be another peaceful march.

Kyles, along with other Memphis ministers who had been organizing nightly rallies raising money for the strike, planned a major rally to prepare for another big march.

The rally was held at the Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3, 1968.

It was at this meeting that King gave his famous "Mountaintop" speech.

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 p.m.

There, according to Kyle, he talked with Ralph Abernathy and King for an hour before leaving.

"He had prepared a meal for Dr. King at his home but he never made it. Kyles stood on the balcony beside Dr. King when he was shot," said Patton.

Kyles is now 81-years-old and has appeared in several documentaries about the life and assassination of King and has toured the country, speaking about King's life and legacy.

He has been the pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis for 54 years.

"This is truly a worthy cause and this man deserves to be honored. There are so many historical markers that honor blues singers and athletes. Kyles deserves a marker too," said Supervisor James McBride.