Community gathers to celebrate Rev. Samuel 'Billy' Kyles - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Community gathers to celebrate Rev. Samuel 'Billy' Kyles

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

Memphians filled Mason Temple Church of God in Christ to honor the legacy of Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles."

Kyles died April 26. He dedicated 50 years of his life to the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of the last people to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alive. Rev. Kyles spent five decades as a civil rights leader. He was often known as "the witness," and his account of the shooting death of Dr. Martin Luther King remains in the National Civil Rights Museum.

"Dr. King and Rev. Billy Kyles--they moved that movement for us, went through that, saw that struggle," Cynthia Halley said.

The people who turned out Friday to honor Kyles decided to focus on his life and legacy, not his death.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland called Rev. Kyles "a leader, voice of reason, and voice of progress."

"We are a city where anything is possible, but that wasn't always the case," Strickland said.

Speaker after speaker went to the podium to tell stories of the legendary leader. They spoke about the impact he had on the Civil Rights Movement, the city of Memphis, and just about anyone he met.

"He always took the time," Rev. Kyles daughter said. "He took the time to help everybody."

The people closest to Kyles said he could always be found standing on the side of truth and focusing on what was right.

"I'm not an important person but he knew me," one person who attended Friday's ceremony said. "He was a common person, just an everyday person. They call Jesse Jackson the country's preacher; he was a Memphis preacher."

Saturday, Memphis and the rest of the world will say a final goodbye to Kyles. His home-going service is scheduled for 12 p.m. You can watch it live on WMC Action News 5 or online here.

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