Rev. Samuel Kyles recalls Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last hours

August 26, 2013 (WASHINGTON)

He is one of the last surviving people to have been with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the day he was assassinated. Rev. Kyles spoke exclusively on Monday to ABC7's Cheryl Burton.

Rev. Samuel Kyles had just purchased a home in Memphis, Tennessee. He was picking up Dr. King to bring him back to his home for dinner. He said the conversation was light-hearted, in fact, Dr. King was giddy about the progress of the civil rights movement. Then, shots rang out.

"He was in the process of speaking to Jesse. Kapow, shot. I looked back, he had been thrown back on the floor of the balcony. Blood was everywhere," said Rev. Kyles.

Rev. Samuel Kyles relives that tragic day back on April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

"There is a famous picture of us pointing to the building across the street, in response to the question, 'Where did the shot come from?'" said Rev. Kyles. "Why I was there at that moment in life and in time? And then God revealed to me why I was there. Crucifixion must have witnesses."

The night before, Dr. King had delivered the historic mountaintop speech in support of the striking sanitation workers. Dr. King preached about not fearing death.

"We never heard him like this, and that's because he was really cleansing," said Rev. Kyles.

Rev. Kyles often shares his story to young people in the hope they never forget the past. He is a guest speaker at a symposium with students from all over the country, including students from Chicago State University, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. On Monday, he reflected carrying on Dr. King's legacy, despite those who tried to silence it.

"They said, 'We will shoot his dream, and see what happens to his dream.' And the witness comes to tell you, his dream is still alive," said Rev. Kyles.

Rev. Kyles just celebrated 53 years as pastor at the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis. He says since Dr. King's death he has devoted his entire life to bringing about change that he says America needs.

During this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the torch is being passed to a new generation fighting for jobs and justice.

They came to pay homage to the man who started it all. A. Phillip Randolph is widely credited with inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to march on Washington for jobs and freedom.

"He always wanted us to continue where he left off. That caused this march 50 years later. I'm proud to be a part of it," said Sam Franklin, student, Chicago State University.

These students from Chicago State and several other universities are participating in the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference. The Chicago-based non-profit offers four days of intense lessons on the civil rights movement. And they are hearing firsthand accounts from those who were there -- including Rev. Samuel Kyles, who was with Dr. King when he was assassinated.

The goal of the conference is to motivate young people to pick up the fight for social justice where their elders left off, and to teach them how to become activists in their own communities.

"All I could think about is that we will overcome one day. If we keep pushing and fighting, we will overcome," said Kaiita Jones, student, Chicago State University.

These students say they accept the challenge given to them by the pioneers of the civil rights movement and they are hopeful they can live up to their expectations.

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