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Minnesota West to host associate of Martin Luther King

WORTHINGTON -- "Early morning, April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky ..."

The U2 song "Pride (in the Name of Love," a tribute to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., alludes to his tragic April 4, 1968, assassination. It's a tragedy that can't help but resonate in the heart of the Rev. Billy Kyles -- who was with King in his final hour -- every day.

Kyles, who's now the only living person to have spent the last hour of King's life with him, will be in Worthington Tuesday, and he will speak at 10:30 a.m. at the college's gymnasium. It's an event that's unexpected on at least a couple of fronts.

Thomas Williams, the college's minority affairs coordinator, explained how he and other Minnesota West representatives got acquainted.

"It was a Landmark program that three of us (history and political science instructor Anne Aby, marketing/political science staff member Julie Stevenson and Williams) went down for. It had to do with being a part of the civil rights movement from Jackson, Miss., to Memphis," Williams said.

"We had a chance to meet a lot of people that were involved with the movement and helped get it up and going," he added. "After Julie and I got back from Memphis, we came into her office and were talking about the trip and how much we enjoyed it. It came up, 'How exciting would it be to have Rev. Kyles come to our campus and speak?'"

Kyles will be a long way from his church when he ventures to Minnesota. He's been pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis since 1959.

Kyles is known for leading the effort to gain community support for striking Memphis sanitation workers, who took to picket lines in February 1968 due to low wages and inhumane working conditions. Part of Kyles' work involved convincing King to go to the Tennessee city in support of the strike.

King would lead a major march there that ended in violence, but it was later learned the violence was prompted by people paid to cause the mayhem. He then led another, peaceful Memphis march on April 3, 1968 -- the night before he was killed, and that evening he gave his renowned "Mountaintop" speech.

Williams said that Kyles will talk about King's final hour while at West. He's also expected to speak of King's widow, Coretta Scott King, who died earlier this week.

"We were worried for a while and thought we might have to cancel everything because the funeral got scheduled for Tuesday," Williams said. "But we got a call today (Friday) that he's coming. Actually, I have to say that his secretary and I became good friends."

Kyles' speech Tuesday morning is free and open to the public.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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