By: Jade Ashlee Atkins
The man sat with his legs gracefully crossed, his hands lying gently on his lap. He looked comfortable in his khaki pants and navy blue sweater, which looked as if they had just come from the cleaners.
His face, weathered with wisdom and tranquility, looked peaceful as if he didn’t even notice the nine cameras taking his picture or the three video cameras recording his every move.
Without hesitation the man, whom everyone seemed in awe over, began to speak. The room grew quiet.
The man spoke softly, in a calm and comforting tone, with the slightest hint on a southern gentlemen’s accent.
He spoke to the crowd of thirteen, consisting of ten undergrad students from San Jose State University, one graduate of SJSU, one professor, and one fire fighter.
The man, Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, is the last living person to have stood on the balcony with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that fateful evening in Memphis.
“I remember turning to walk down the steps, I thought goodness gracious you guys lets get going, and as I turned I heard the loudest KA-POW, and the blast and knocked Martin, to the ground.”
He explained that the famous photograph where Dr. King is lying on the balcony in the pool of his own blood, is where he and the other gentlemen, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, were pointing to show the police where the shot had come from.
The cigarette pack and bloodstained handkerchief Dr. King had in his pocket the day of his assassination, is now in Kyles possession. He said he took it “Because Dr. King didn’t really like the youth to see him smoking.” He said “They’re somewhere at my house.”
He told the story of how the operator who happened to be the owner of the Motels wife, came outside and had a heart-attack from the shock of what she saw. “She died three days later.”
Rev. Kyles whose face still had the same look of wisdom and peace, went on to say that when they got the call that Dr. King did not survive the gun-shot, “they did not say he died, they simply said ‘we lost him’ ”
Panning the room, not a dry eye was in sight.
As his story went on, he drifted in and out of the civil rights era, comparing the election of today, with the movements of the past.
He answered each and every question the students had for him. They clung to his every word, scribbling fiercely with pens and notepads given to them by the hotel.
The room, which was dimly lit, only added to warmth radiating off of Rev. Kyles, who seemed fully at home with each of the persons in the room.
The man with the navy blue sweater and khaki pants got up to leave and was bombarded by eager students who yearned for just one photograph and maybe a hug or two.
He left, the same way he came, graceful and cheery, wishing the students well and good-luck on their trip.
The last thing he said to a student was said in the same kind and gentle tone as before. He said, “Remember, you are your own biggest fan. Give yourself something to be proud of.”
And with that the man was gone.