WMU News

Witness to King's death is MLK celebration speaker

Jan. 5, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A longtime civil rights activist who was a witness to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. will be the keynote speaker Sunday, Jan. 9, beginning this year's celebration of King's life at Western Michigan University.

WMU and the Northside Ministerial Alliance are teaming up for the third year to put on a memorable series of events honoring the memory of the slain civil rights leader. A focal point of the collaboration will be the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which will precede a week of campus activities. The celebration is set for 4 p.m. in Miller Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

The keynote speaker of this year's program is the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles. Kyles has been pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., since 1959. He has participated in many of the civil rights struggles throughout the South and is recognized as a valuable resource in the civil rights movement.

Kyles had close ties with King. After Memphis sanitation workers went on strike in February 1968, Kyles organized nightly rallies and raised money to support striking workers. He scheduled a major rally on April 3 and persuaded King to speak at it. King delivered his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address and was assassinated the next day at the Lorraine Motel. Kyles was an eyewitness to the shooting and was with King during the last hour of his life.

Kyles continued his involvement with the civil rights movement and is a founding member of the national board of Jesse Jackson's People United to Save Humanity, known as PUSH, and is the executive director of Rainbow-PUSH-Memphis. He also worked on Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad.

Kyles has appeared in several television documentaries on the life and death of King and has traveled the nation extensively, speaking about King and his message.

In addition to Kyles' speech, University programs, departments and registered student organizations will participate in a weeklong, campuswide observation of King's life Jan. 18-21. A wide range of activities is planned in keeping with this year's theme "Integrating our Past with our Present: Impacting our Future." A complete list and details of those activities is available online at <www.wmich.edu/mlk>.

Deveta Gardner, career advisor in WMU's Career and Student Employment Services, is chair of the WMU Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. She says working with the Northside Ministerial Alliance on the annual celebration has been very beneficial.

"It is again a pleasure to collaborate with the Northside Ministerial Alliance," she says. "This unique collaboration continues to blaze a trail of hope, and proves that all things are possible if we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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