Mid-South mourns loss of Samuel 'Billy' Kyles - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mid-South mourns loss of Samuel 'Billy' Kyles

Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles (Source: WMC Action News 5) Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles (Source: WMC Action News 5)

The Mid-South is still mourning the loss of Reverend Doctor Samuel “Billy” Kyles.

Kyles, the civil rights activist who was one of the last people to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alive, died Tuesday night.

"We were so connected to him and his teaching for 55, 56 years that it's just a profound sense of loss,” Rev. Wade Bryant said.

Bryant took over as pastor of Monumental Baptist Church when Rev. Kyles retired.

"He had a pastor's heart,” Bryant said. "He never wanted to do anything or be anyone else other than Pastor Samuel Billy Kyles."

Bryant said Jessie Jackson once told him Kyles was the conscience and strategist of the Civil Rights group led by Dr. King. He said Kyles’ ability to see the world with a wider lens than most people was evident when he sent his five-year-old daughter to be one of the Memphis 13, the first 13 black children sent to an integrated school.

"That took courage and commitment,” Bryant said. “And you know, we at Monumental were able to see that kind of fortitude and commitment. And then it helped change membership lives, because we knew we had a steadfast leader."

Rev. Ralph White, of Bloomfield Baptist Church, remembers Kyles as more than a Civil Rights leader. He remembers him as a friend.

"When you met him, you didn't say this is a man who walked with Dr. King,” White said. “He was an everyday person--a man of integrity."

Kyles was a towering force in the Civil Rights movement and a towering figure in the Memphis community and his church.

"There were many in that day who, now who say, ‘Yeah, I was there the day Dr. King died,’ but they weren't with him. Dr. Kyles was with him,” White said.

Kyle’s legacy also includes time as the executive director of Rainbow Push in Memphis.

“He was a champion for justice,” Bryant said. “He helped groom so many people in this church to be better people. After he preached the gospel, he was able to practice what he preached."

What he preached was making the world a better place, and that’s what Bryant thinks Kyles would want to be remembered for.

"Of all the things that he has accomplished, being remembered as a servant leader. That's the kind of leader that I aspire to be: a servant leader. We just want to honor his legacy and keep trying to change things."

"Memphis--the world--really owes him a great deal based on his presence and his positions,” White said.

One of Rev. White’s first thoughts upon hearing Kyles has died was for his wife, Aurelia, who served along his side at Monumental Baptist Church for decades.

"We want her to know we love her and we'll never forget her husband and what he contributed to our lives and this city,” White said.

For Rev. White, he said he has no doubt that Kyle’s legacy will forever be etched into history.

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