from "Another Chance" -
a homily delivered during the Lenten Noonday Preaching Series
at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN, on April
sanitation workers had gone on strike in Memphis in February
1968. They were treated so poorly and their wages were so low
that they could work all day and still qualify for welfare. So
they went on strike. We tried to get them to wait until June.
Then you would have the heat and the stench and the flies, but
they said, "No, we cant go back. Were out. Were
not going back." That started the movement for equality
for the sanitation workers.
started having rallies every night, and we started raising money.
Then we started making plans for a big rally, and we invited
Dr. King to come. The first time we asked him, his staff said, "We
dont have time. Were working on the Poor Peoples
Campaign. We cant come to Memphis." But he overruled
them and said, "No, were going to Memphis," and
he came and made a wonderful speech. We got him to agree to come
back and lead a march. That march broke up in violence, so he
wanted to come back and have a peaceful march. He said, "If
we dont have a peaceful march in Memphis, we cant
have one in Washington."
he came back to lead that march on April 3, 1968. We almost
missed the mountaintop speech. There were
tornado warnings that night, thunder and lightening and rain.
He thought there would not be many people at the temple.
So he told Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy and myself to
go over and have the meeting without him. He would stay in
his hotel room and work on the Poor Peoples Campaign.
we got there and the place was nearly full. Abernathy walked
in, Jesse Jackson walked in, and then I walked in, and the people
started clapping. Abernathys preachers sense said, "These
people are not clapping for us. They think Martin is coming in
behind us." So he went to the phone and said, "Martin,
you better get over here, man. These people came out in the weather
to hear you." So, he came. We almost missed that mountaintop
Abernathy introduced him for fully 20 minutes. We didnt
know that would be the last introduction he would ever receive.
We knew how to get the introducer out of the way when hes
too long, we say, "Amen, brother. Amen, brother." But
no one said a word. Martin sort of teased Ralph when he got up.
He said, "I thought Ralph wasnt going to make a speech."
never heard him talk about death so much as he did that night. He
didnt take a topic. He just got up and started talking.
He told us how his plane had been under guard all the previous
night in Atlanta, and that when he got into Memphis, he had
heard about more threats against his life.
he started to talk about the time he was stabbed in New York.
A woman came up to him as he was signing books, and said, "Are
you Martin Luther King?" He said, "Yes," and she
stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.
he was recovering, he said of all the greetings he got, the one
most telling came from a young girl in New York somewhere. She
wrote, "Dear Dr. King, I read about your misfortune, and
Im so sorry to hear about that. The papers said the blade
was so close to your aorta that if you had sneezed you would
have drowned in your own blood." She put at the bottom, "Im
glad you didnt sneeze."
picked up on that and did a whole litany onIm glad
I didnt sneeze. If I had sneezed, I would have missed the
young people "sitting in" all across the south. If
I had sneezed, I would have missed the Selma to Montgomery march.
If I had sneezed, I would have missed the voting rights. He talked
about all the things he would have missed had he sneezed.
then said, "You will get to the Promised Land. We as a people
will get to the Promised Land. I may not get there with you,
but God has allowed me to go on the mountain. Ive looked
over, and Ive seen the Promised Land. Youll get to
the Promised Land."
certain he knew he wouldnt get there, but he knew we couldnt
stand to hear him say, "I wont get there with you." So
he softened it and said, "I may not get there with you."
never thought hed live to be 40. He was 39 when the bullet
hit him. He said, "Ive looked over, and Ive
seen the Promised Land, and Im not fearing any man. Mine
eyes have seen the coming of the Good Lord," and he turned
and walked to his seat. He
always finished his quotes, but he didnt finish his quote
that night. And by the next day he was right, he didnt
live to be 40.
was to be served at my home. I told him dinner was at 5:00. He
called my house, and someone told him dinner was at 6:00. So,
when I got to the motel to pick him up, he said, "Im
in no hurry. Dinners not till 6:00."
gave me the wonderful privilege,
along with Ralph Abernathy, of spending the last hour of his
life with him in Room 306 of the Lorraine MotelAbernathy,
King and Kyles. And now Im the only one left.
talked about things that preachers talk about. About a quarter
of 6:00 we walked out onto the balcony. He was greeting people
he had not seen. Somebody said, "Its going to be cold
Doc, get your coat."
didnt go back in the room. He went to the door and said, "Ralph,
get my coat." Ralph was in the room putting on shaving lotion.
Ralph said, "Ill get your coat." He went back
to the railing of the balcony and was greeting people again.
He said something to Jesse Jackson and said something to some
other people. We stood together. I said, "Come on, guys.
got about five steps, and the shot rang out. I looked over. People
were ducking behind cars. I looked back and saw that the bullet
had knocked him from beside the railing down onto the balcony.
ran to him, and I looked at him. He had this tremendous hole
in his face. Then I ran into the room and picked up the phone
to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator
had left the switchboard.
was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, "Answer the
phone, answer the phone, answer the phone." And there was
nobody on the switchboard. So the phone was not answered. (I
learned later that the operator had gone out into the courtyard
to watch Dr. King. When she saw what happened, she had a heart
attack. She was the motel owners wife, and she died subsequently.)
The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered to the police, "Call
an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot." They said, "Where
did the shot come from?" The well-known picture of the people pointing
is in response to that question. It was a terrible time. I thought I was having
waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of
the beds and covered him from his neck down. I took a crushed
cigarette from his hand. He never smoked publicly, he didnt
want the children to see him smoke. I took the cigarette pack
from his pocket.
cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on
that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the ambulance came and
took him away.
many, many years, I must tell you, I wondered why was I there? Of
all the places I could have been, of all the places he could
have been, all the things we could have been involved in,
why was I there at that moment in history?
God revealed it to me over the yearsI was there to be a
witness, and my witness has to be true. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
didnt die in some foolish, untoward way. He didnt
overdose. He wasnt shot by a jealous lover. He died helping
will mark the 32nd anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. The interest in this 20th century prophets life
after 32 years is quite remarkable and unbelievable.
The fruits of his labor are with us now. A
man with a Ph.D. degreeof all the things he could have been, he chose
to use his gifts and his talents "for the least of these."
so we see the results of his fruit. Yes, we will slay the dreamer
and see what happens to his dream. The dream is alive. MIFA (Memphis
Inter-Faith Association) is alive. Calvary is alive. The Berlin
Wall is down. South Africa is free.
of these are the fruits of his labor. Arent you glad God
gives us another chance?
the life and times of our servant, Martin, were grateful.
For those who carry on his work and his dream, were
grateful. For Doug Bailey and Calvary Church and all those
who join in bearing the fruit that mankind needs, were
grateful. This season of preparation as we remember your
death and your suffering, but most of all your glorious resurrection,
keep us always in your love. Always give us another chance.
The Rev. Dr. Billy Kyles
from "Another Chance" -
a homily delivered during the Lenten Noonday Preaching
Series at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN, on April