HOMESTEAD – As one of the foremost civil rights activists in the 1960s, the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles forged a close bond with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was an eyewitness to the late civil rights leader’s assassination.
Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Homestead Campus recently hosted A Candid Discussion with the Rev. Billy Kyles, during which he detailed King’s life, legacy and Kyles’ final moments with the civil-rights martyr.
Kyles, a civil rights leader from Memphis, used King’s legacy to encourage the audience of students and community and faculty members who crowded the room at the MDC’s Homestead Campus.
“Hold fast to your dreams,” Kyles said during a riveting speech. King, he said, “never stopped dreaming.”
Kyles entered the civil rights movement in the late 1950s, when he moved from Chicago to Memphis to pastor a church. In the face of segregation, he joined the Memphis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and helped strategize the South’s civil rights movement.
Through nonviolent protests, the lifelong activist was instrumental in integrating schools, mass transit, restaurants, theaters and workplaces in Memphis.
Catapulted to the forefront of the civil rights movement, Rev. Kyles was one of several aides present with King during his final hour at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.
As time progressed, Kyles continued his tireless fight for racial equality and international human rights. He has served on various U.S. delegations to South Africa and is a founding member of the People United to Serve Humanity (PUSH), known today as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Kyles has received numerous prestigious awards, and in 2010 was added to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.
The revered historical figure is featured in numerous documentaries including Who Shot Martin Luther King?, The Last Days of King and HBO’s The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.
“It is important for our students to learn about the civil rights movement and its impact on our nation,” said MDC Homestead Campus President Jeanne Jacobs of the Feb. 20 event. “To have such a civil rights legend as Rev. Kyles address our students during Black History Month is especially meaningful.”
*Pictured is the chair of Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Black History Month Committee, Philosophy Prof. Michael Mannino, left, who was instrumental in bringing the Rev. Samuel ‘Billy’ Kyles to the college to speak. The two hold a recognition plaque given to Kyles by MDC’ Office of Student Life at the Homestead Campus for his ‘Lifelong Commitment to Serving Our Community.’