Homegoing services for Civil Rights icon Rev. Kyles - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Homegoing services for Civil Rights icon Rev. Kyles

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Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton spoke at Rev. Kyles' funeral (Source: WMC Action News 5) Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton spoke at Rev. Kyles' funeral (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Samuel "Billy" Kyles (Source: WMC Action News 5) Samuel "Billy" Kyles (Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

People around the world paid their respects to Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles, a Civil Rights icon who dedicated his life to serving God.

"Some people have funerals. Some people have homegoing celebrations," said Reverend Wade C. Bryant. "But I want to tell you today, we celebrate the homegoing of our pastor, the Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles."

Rev. Kyles died April 26 after leading an incredible life of service and liberty.

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

"He was one of the tallest trees in the human rights forest, a true humanitarian, fighting for the rights of all people. Rev. Samuel B. Kyles' legacy is as firm as the Father of the New South [Nelson Mandela]," Joseph Kyles, Kyles' nephew, said.

Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles homegoing was held Saturday at Monumental Baptist Church, which he founded when he was just 17 years old. He preached at the church for 55 years.

"If when you give the best of your service, telling the world that the Savior is come, be not dismayed when the man who won't believe you, he'll understand and say, 'well done.'" Sister Shirley sang. "Well done, Rev. Kyles, well done."

Her breathtaking performance was followed by celebration and dancing throughout the congregation, truly fulfilling the promise of a celebration of Rev. Kyles' homegoing.

"So many calm faces have come here to say 'thank you,' to Dr. Rev. Kyles," said Bryant.

The Chairman of Monumental Baptist Church's Board of Trustees, William Hudson Jr., recognized the impact Kyles' had on the church's community.

"In 1939, people gathered to form a church. They elected a young pastor from Chicago, IL, named Samuel Billy Kyles. At the same time, they named the church," Hudson said. "No one knew the name Monumental would be broadcast around the world over and over again. God sent Billy Kyles to us to lead us, guide us, and chart a course for us."

Hudson said the church and Reverend Kyles' impact on the community was immeasurable.

"This became a beacon of light and a source of hope, not only for this South Memphis community, but for souls around this country," Hudson said. "Yes, Rev. Kyles was a national leader, but let me say this: he was our pastor."

He told stories of Reverend Kyles from more than 50 years ago, when the two fought for civil rights in the Memphis Area. Hudson recalled fighting for African Americans to have the opportunity to drive buses in the area.

"It didn't stop there. In 1993, the first black director of MATA was appointed. That was me."

He added that Kyles used this story as an example of their hard work accomplished.

"Rev. told this story all over the United States. He said, 'see what they get for messing with me!'"

Hudson closed his statements with a nod to the church.

"Reverend Kyles will be remembered in the hearts of the people around this nation, but let me tell you, he will always be remembered in the hearts of the Monumental Baptist Church family."

Dr. Reginald Porter, Vice President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, read a letter from the president of the organization. The letter recalled the history of Reverend Kyles' life as a civil rights icon and a man of God. He was also instrumental in the peaceful integration of restaurants and other places in Memphis, and stood on the balcony the night Dr. King died.

"PNBC has lost a brother beloved," Porter read. "He will be sorely missed, but certainly his living will not be in vain."

Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton then took the stand, reflecting on the life of his friend and neighbor.

"Not only did he preach to save humanity, he preached to serve humanity," Wharton said.

He told a story of Reverend Kyles' dedication to the community and openness to those he served.

"He helped us find a home," Wharton said. "He helped so many Memphians, the downtrodden and the cast-out, find a home."

Wharton was astonished at everything Kyles was able to accomplish in his lifetime.

"This was a man with only one lung," Wharton said. "Think what he could have done with two lungs."

Wharton closed his statement, evoking Elton John.

"It seemed to me that he lived his life like a candle in the wind. He knew who to cling to when the rain and the storms set in, and I'd like to have known you so much better, but in your span of life we were just kids. Your candle burned out long before your legend did. Long live Pastor Billy Kyles."

Next, Reverend Glenn Strickland, a friend of Kyles' in Chicago, recalled his longtime friendship with the reverend.

"I was there when he preached his first introductional sermon. He didn't preach it from the pulpit, he preached it from the floor," Strickland said.

Strickland recalled being the best man at Kyles' wedding and the moment when Kyles moved to Memphis to build Monumental Baptist Church.

"This man packed up his family, his wife and his three kids, came to Memphis without a job, without a home," Strickland said. "He took that church, and they started having services in Foote Homes in the community building."

After Bryant acknowledged the large number of elected officials and clergy members from across the city who came to honor the reverend, Kyles' son, Dwain J. Kyles, took the pulpit.

"First thing I want you to know is Rev. Billy Kyles loved Monumental," Dwain Kyles said. "And growing up in his house, you had to love Monumental too. If you didn't, you had to find somewhere else to live."

Dwain Kyles sincerely thanked the Monumental Baptist community for supporting his father throughout his lifetime.

"You cannot do what he did unless people let you...So I want to thank you for allowing him to do so." Kyles said."

"I want to thank the broader community, those who are not members of monumental, for recognizing my father's achievements, but please know that they were not his achievements, they were our achievements, because he really could not have done them without Monumental."

Dwain Kyles said his father loved the church so much, he did whatever he could to feel that he was still a part of it until he died.

"You need to understand that people would come and take shifts to sit with him and keep him company because he missed this church so much."

Kyles elaborated on what he considered the tenants of his father's life: "Service, strength, salvation, and sacrifice."

Kyles recalled why he felt his father was meant for his role as a member of the church.

"He was a gifted listener. He listened to people. He heard the things you were saying and the things you weren't saying. And he could give the right advice."

"Service demands that you love people.... and he loved people. All kinds of people. For us, we were conditioned that we didn't know how to do any other way."

Then, he said his father's strength came from his willingness to love.

"Vilifying your enemy doesn't help anything. If you want to win, you need to understand that your enemy is human too."

He recalled his own prosecution for a crime he said he did not commit, and how his father's advice gave him the strength to move through that time and recover.

"He taught us strength is not just overcoming your enemies or your adversaries with might or force, it's really about learning how to love people and how to listen to people. Strength is a quiet resolve, is how I look at it."

Dwain Kyles said his father's sacrifice came from his devotion to God.

"To give of yourself that you are really trying to advance God's work, requires that we not give into the impulses that we have to overcome or win by any means necessary. And that to me is where strength is the willingness to sacrifice."

"He lived his salvation. And now, we're all witnesses to that," Dwain Kyles added. "Dad was focused on what he was doing and what needed to be done. He wasn't interested in looking back. He was always looking forward."

Kyles closed his statements with a plea to the congregation.

"I want us today to leave us with a sense of service, strength, sacrifice and salvation. Will you do that for me?"

Next, Deaconess Lou Hudson read various proclamations from other churches and government agencies thanking Reverend Kyles for his dedication both to his church and to the fight for civil rights.

"His words and deeds showed us that love and dignity are stronger than hatred and oppression," she read from a note from President Bill Clinton.

After a moving violin tribute from Lori Sykes, Santina Jackson, daughter of Reverend Jesse Jackson, took the pulpit.

"My heart is broken today, but it is lifted because I know my Uncle Billy is with God now."  

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was scheduled to deliver the eulogy, but was unable to attend the funeral because he was delayed in Africa. His daughter explained that he was detained in a Guinean airport. The Reverend Dr. James L. Nettles delivered the eulogy in his place.

"A great history maker has gone home where he belongs," Nettles said.

He then broke into his eulogy, recalling a portion the New Testament.

"When the God that gave us this life, when he calls, we ought to be able to say, 'I am ready.'" Nettles said. "Ready does not mean that you have accomplished all of the goals that you have set in your life, but rather it describes the believer who has grown steadily, daily, constantly and in the face of God. Then to be ready means to accept fervently and irrevocably the sovereign will of God."

Nettles recalled the fight for civil rights, organizing peaceful protests and getting arrested, but never giving up the fight.

"We decided we were going to integrate every restaurant, and every hotel in town, every place that wouldn't let you go in."

He recognized Kyles' accomplishments, both in the church and in the fight for civil rights.

"Billy Kyles finished his course. Now he's ready. Thank God he's ready to be offered up." "Why was Billy Kyles ready to be offered up?...Well I'll tell you why. It's because he kept the faith!"

Nettles said Kyles had the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself, ending the eulogy with a powerful display of faith.

Bryant closed the celebration, with a note to the congregation.

"I know it's going to be difficult past these days, but God is able and faithful to get you through it."

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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