Monday, February 21, 2011

Walking History

If you were to look in my personal library, you probably would find anywhere from 25 to 30 books on the subject of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or the Civil Rights Movement. I have studied Dr. King in nearly the same manner that he studied Gandhi. The latest book I read about the account of Dr. King’s assassination was a fascinating look at the simultaneous whereabouts and movements of James Earl Ray (his accused assassin) and Martin Luther King, Jr. up until the bullet piercing his neck on April 4, 1968. The book is entitled Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Hampton Sides. It is a chilling account of how Dr. Kings and James Earl Ray’ paths cross on that fateful day in April of 1968. I was born in August of 1962 making me to be five going on six, and I remember the impact that the assassination of  Dr. King had in my house and the world. I remember going into the bathroom and just crying and not really knowing why because I saw the reactions of both my mother and my father to hearing the news.

I start this entry with this brief backdrop to help you understand why for the last two years during the month of February at The St. Luke Baptist Church Heritage Sunday Celebration words could not describe my feelings as I listened to both Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy last February and to the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles on yesterday (2/20/11). The pastor of St. Luke, Rev. Kenneth D.R. Clayton, makes it his business to have us have the opportunity to hear from historic figures that helped pave the way for African Americans and all Americans in order for us to be inspired to pursue our God given excellence and I am grateful for his efforts.

Well, I sat there yesterday on the absolute edge of my pew as Rev. Kyles interwove his experiences with Rev. King on April 3rd and 4th of 1968 within his larger message of “Hold Fast to Your Dreams.” Rev. Kyles shared how dreamers are the ones who make the world go around. He went on to share that there are a lot of dream busters out there. He asked, supposed the Wright Brothers had given up on their dream to fly? He encouraged those of us in the congregation to recapture any dreams that we may have lost as they are our dreams and not anyone else’s. He noted that even the sanitation workers had a dream. Rev. Kyles shared a story of how during one of his trips to Philadelphia, PA, a young woman came up to him and said, “ I would like to thank you and all of the others who took up the cause for the sanitation workers because I am now a judge and my father was a sanitation worker. To our young and not so young, he talked about a time when it was “illegal” to learn to read. He kept emphasizing that it is no longer “illegal” to learn how to read and if you had the ability to read between the lines he was letting us know that we must read more as a people.

As I said in the beginning of this entry, I have read countless books on Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement but it was the strangest feeling to listen to someone who spent the last hour of Dr. King’s life with him. There were three preachers in that room in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee that day and they were King, Abernathy and Kyles. When Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped out of the door at the Lorraine Motel, Billy Kyles was there. You cannot imagine hearing the accounts of the Mountaintop speech and the sound of the gunfire from Rev. Kyles. It’s one thing to read about it; it is another thing to hear from an “honest witness.”  Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles is "Walking History." The plan was for Dr. King to have dinner at the Kyles’ home that evening and then attend a rally. These plans were changed by one bullet and the rest as they say is history. I will not forget meeting Rev. Fauntroy last February and I certainly shall never forget meeting and listening to one of my heroes last moments from someone who was not only there, but up close and personal. It is an experience that words will just not do justice. I encourage everyone to take a trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee if you have not done so already. I have been to The King Center in Atlanta, GA on several occasions and have not taken the opportunity to stop through Memphis, but you can rest assured I will. As Rev. Kyles ended his lesson, he emphatically said with almost tears in his eyes that, “You can kill the dreamer, but you can NEVER kill the DREAM. Whatever your dream is as the NIKE slogan says, “Just Do It!”  I also encourage you to make a donation to the Washington D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. You can do so by logging on to By making this donation you too can be a part of history.

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