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The city of Memphis was gathered in mourning as attendees for the home-going service for Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles took place over the weekend. Rev. Kyles, who is perhaps best known as one of the men gathered on the Lorraine Motel balcony the day of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, died last week at the age of 81.

Rev. Kyles was born on September 26, 1934 in Shelby, Miss. The son of a preacher, Kyles fell into the family tradition at the age of 17 and moved to Memphis in his twenties to lead the Monumental Baptist Church, a post he held for 55 years. As a boy, his mother began calling him “Billy” after evangelist Billy Sunday and the name stuck.

Kyles used his position in the community to be a champion of civil rights for Black people in Memphis and across the Deep South. He was instrumental in helping organize bus integration in his adopted city, and supported the efforts of Dr. King in representing low-wage sanitation workers there as well.

Little Known Black History Fact: Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles  was originally published on

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