“THE WITNESS: From The Balcony of Room 306” chronicles the final days of Dr. King as seen through the eyes of one of the last surviving witnesses.
More than forty years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain on the balcony of the historic Lorraine Motel. This past spring, the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) commemorated the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination and honored his legacy with a full day of commemoration including the premiere screening of “The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306.” This award winning documentary short captures the last days of Dr. King as seen through the eyes of one of the only surviving witnesses on the balcony, a close friend who spent the last hours with him that fateful day in 1968, Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles.
As Kyles, now 74 years, so eloquently states, “Absolutely you can kill the dreamer, but you cannot, I must tell you that you cannot kill the dream. The dream is still alive. The dream is still alive. The dream is still alive.” The film emphasizes the ongoing relevance of the Civil Rights Movement, as a beacon of hope for all people in struggle the world over and gives us perspective, in light of our incredibly historic presidential election of how far we have come. It examines the history of the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of Dr. King’s contemporaries, how it inspired non-violent social activism among ordinary people who, as a result, became leaders that affected historic change.
Reverend Kyles, a longtime leader in the Civil Rights Movement, chronicles his time with Dr. King leading up to the fateful shot including his efforts to gain community support for the striking sanitation workers in 1968, the famous marches through Memphis and Dr. King’s last days. Kyles reveals stirring details about conversations with Dr. King moments before his passing. The 32-minute documentary short includes exclusive, never before seen commentary and interviews with Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Civil Rights Leader and former Executive director of the NAACP, Mrs. Maxine Smith, Executive Secretary, NAACP Memphis Branch and Taylor Rodgers, one of the original sanitation workers who marched alongside King and Kyles, among others.
As the film’s executive producer and producer, Margaret Hyde, says, “Rev. Kyles is such an inspiring presence and so integral to telling this story. Not to have this man’s testimony committed to film would be a great loss not only to the Civil Rights Movement but also future generations who need to hear about this.”
Although Hyde had dreamt of making this film a reality for many years, the film from inception to the first screening took an astoundingly short seven months. “Everyone, especially Rev. Kyles, participated with the proviso that we didn’t seek to personally benefit from the film and that all proceeds would go to the Museum. We know we just couldn’t think of making the film any other way.. Everyone interviewed in the film donated his or her time and we were able to screen the film at the NCRM in time for the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination commemoration.”
Hyde adds, “Rev. Kyles has been so true to his mission and his message. He has never written a book or tried to capitalize on being a witness, and couldn’t speak about it for the first 30 years following Dr. King’s death, but he does tell his story when asked (for free) all over the country. We’re honored that we could provide a forum for this great man to add to the Civil Rights legacy and provide a forum for his message encouraging and challenging everyone to keep the dream alive.”