Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last Hour Alive

Published Jan. 18, 2010 by Allvoices.

The San Diego County YMCA hosted its 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr Human Dignity Award breakfast Friday with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

The morning’s keynote speaker was Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, the last person alive who was with Dr. King an hour before an assassin fired a fatal bullet and was standing at his side that day on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

That last hour in room 306, from roughly 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., was filled with light conversation, jokes and “preacher talk.” It was as if he’d preached the fear out of himself, Kyles said.

To hear more about the time after King’s assassination – and why Kyles believes he was there – watch the video clip above, the last three minutes of Kyles’ speech.

King came to Memphis in April 1968 to support a strike by black garbage workers demanding fair treatment and pay.

The day before his death, Kyles, Jesse Jackson and others went to Bishop Charles Mason Temple, where King delivered his famous “Mountaintop” sermon, to see if anyone would show up.

Since it rained that day, they didn’t know if many people would come. But the church was full and, if they hadn’t called or didn’t get through to say so, there wouldn’t have been a Mountaintop sermon, Kyles said.

“I may not make it to the mountain top with you,” King said in the sermon.

King, 39, was confident he’d never make it past 40, Kyles said.

“We never said the word death or die,” he said. “We lost him.”

Kyles moved with his family from Chicago to Memphis in 1959 to pastor Monumental Baptist Church, where he has been ever since.

Viewing civil rights as “an extension of his ministry,” he joined the local NAACP branch and became involved in non-violent protest soon after his arrival.

Comments are closed.