WBC History Students Meet Civil Rights Legend
A chance encounter at the National Civil Rights Museum this week put several Williams Baptist College history students face-to-face with a legendary figure. The students met Rev. Billy Kyles, a Memphis minister who was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was assassinated.
|A Chance to Meet History. Front row (left to right): Miranda Neely, Morgan Law and Charlene Smith. Back row: Kevin Hennings, Grant Smith, Rev. Billy Kyles, Seth Wilson and Mitchell Dennis.
"The opportunity to meet Rev. Kyles was an opportunity to shake hands with history," said Dr. Todd Ewing, chair of the WBC history department. "The students were very excited, especially since we had just listened to his story in the film, ‘The Witness,’ before going into the museum. Opportunities like these are important, and I was excited for the students."
Kyles and his family had planned to entertain King at their home the evening of April 4, 1968. The minister had gone to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis to meet with King and drive him to Kyles’ home, but King was fatally shot as he stepped onto the motel balcony.
Kyles was a civil rights leader in Memphis and had been instrumental in bringing King to the city during a strike by sanitation workers. Kyles met with King and Dr. Ralph Abernathy at the Lorraine for about an hour just before the assassination, and Kyles is now the last surviving member of that trio.
The Lorraine has since been transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum, which the Williams students were visiting in honor of Black History Month. Kyles happened to be at the museum when they arrived and took time to meet the entourage from WBC.
"The students expressed over and over again how awesome the opportunity was in meeting him," Ewing noted. "You could see it in their eyes and the eagerness to meet him and stand near him to get their picture taken. The chance for the history department to facilitate its students’ ability to actually touch history we think will help bring history alive for them, their future students and others around them."
Williams is a four-year, liberal arts college at Walnut Ridge. The WBC history department offers majors in history and in social studies education.
Pictured: Front row (left to right): Miranda Neely, Morgan Law and Charlene Smith. Back row: Kevin Hennings, Grant Smith, Rev. Billy Kyles, Seth Wilson and Mitchell Dennis.
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