The Legendary South – Memphis, TN – Bianca deCastro
We left home during breakfast time and arrived here in Memphis at dinner time. But there was no dinner for this team of students, at least not yet. Pressed for time we quickly set up the conference room at the Courtyard Marriott Memphis Airport which was graciously donated for our use.
Our first interview of the journey signified how important and immense the opportunities we have at hand actually are. Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, the last living man to have been on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot, became my first challenge of the trip.
I say challenge because it is a challenge keeping steady composure in the presence of living history. What I mean by that is you read about history all your life throughout your years of schooling and education and very rarely does one have the opportunity to direct questions to the ones who have actually lived through it.
My mind raced everywhere and I felt nervous, unable to center my thoughts to one group of questions that would in sequential order make sense. I wanted to ask a million questions, in any order which made no difference to me.
I began to fluster about as I was called into the room where the bright spotlight shone and Rev. Kyles awaited in one chair while the other was empty for me. I walked toward the room and quickly diverted to a small outlet in the hallway, where I called out to the anxious group of students “Gimmie a minute, I need to pray!”
I joined hands with our San Jose Firefighter, Anthony, who asked god to give me strength and we thanked him for the opportunities we were given.
As I walked back to the room and sat in that seat next to Rev. Kyles I remembered that I am not only here for myself and this is not only an opportunity for me but it is a chance for me to tell and share a story, a story that needs to be told.
Rev. Kyles has a presence like none other I’ve experienced. At the age of 74, he remembers and tells the story like it was yesterday. Of all the interviews I’ve watched on television and all the articles I’ve read, his answers never strayed, not on one detail.
I began the interview asking questions about the past and gradually began to slowly ease President-elect Obama into the picture by asking questions such as how Dr. King would have reacted to the election.
I look forward to meeting with more people, who like Rev. Kyles, have great strength to share such difficult memories from such trying times, all on hope that it will educate people of the truth.
The National Civil Rights Museum was a short stop on the way out of town. It was a collective look at the struggles and forthcomings that have been brought about through the civil rights movements.
Today Carolyn Payne, the sister of Larry Payne was kind enough to meet and speak with us at the National Civil Rights Museum.
The baby son of eight children, Larry Payne, was 15 and his sister, Carolyn 13 when he was killed by police, in what police say was a looting and knife wielding incident.
Carolyn Payne described what she had heard and how the events had hurt her and her family and continue to cause grief since the case has never been properly addressed. “I just want closure,” she said.
The policemen involved in the killing were never charged and the man who shot Payne remains free today.
Carolyn Payne said that the case was closed, and then reopened and remains that way with her not knowing anything more.
I imagine that there are many more cases like the Paynes, hundreds, if not more cases of unsolved crimes and killings that have been forgotten by the rest of the world but remain vivid yesterdays to the victim’s families and friends.
Hearing Carolyn Payne speak reminded me that remembering and learning civil rights history is more than knowing about Dr. King. She also reminded me that the injustices of the past aren’t as far gone as many people think that they are. After all, it was just a few years back that the civil rights workers (Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner) who were murdered in Mississippi finally got justice in the case of Ray Killen.