Rev. Samuel Kyles born

Rev. Samuel Kyles
Wed, 1934-09-26

*The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles was born on this date in 1934. He is an African American minister and Civil Rights activist.

Born n Shelby, Mississippi, he is the son of Ludie "Queen" Kyles and Rev. Joseph Henry Kyles. Kyles started preaching at the age of 17 and moved to Memphis in in 1959 to lead the cities Monumental Baptist Church. During that time, Kyles became a member of his local NAACP branch and joined other ministers 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 that resulted in his arrest.

In 1968, Kyles helped lead an effort to gain community support for striking sanitation workers. After Memphis workers went on strike in February, protesting low wages and inhumane working conditions, 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 big march.

The rally was held at the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968. It was at this meeting that King gave his now famous "mountaintop" speech. The following day, Kyles was to host King Jr.for dinner at his home. Kyles went to the Lorraine Motel to pick up Dr. King Jr. at 5 p.m. There, Kyles talked with Ralph Abernathy and King for an hour before leaving the motel for dinner at 6 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 appeared in several documentaries about the life and assassination of King and has toured the country, speaking about King's life and legacy. Kyles lives with his wife Aurelia; the couple has five children and five grandchildren.

Voices that Guide Us (Black Box) interview
African American Registry®
Box 19441
MPLS., MN 55419

Person / name: 

Kyles, Samuel