14 September 2010

Ernest Withers, Say It Ain't So!

Apparently there was more than met the eye with photographer Ernest Withers who was famous for his images of the U.S. civil rights movement. Now, it is always important to ask how the state 'recruits' people into the sort of role described here. This report, if true, is a disappointment nonetheless.

Prominent Civil Rights-Era Photographer Was FBI Informant

And newly disclosed records show that one of the most prominent photographers of the civil rights era, Ernest Withers, was also a paid informant for the FBI. According to the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Withers worked closely with the FBI to monitor civil rights activists during the 1960s. Withers is said to have provided photographs, background information and scheduling details to two agents in FBI’s Memphis spying office. Withers photographed Dr. Martin Luther King at several marches and was the only photographer to cover the entire trial of those accused in the murder of the black teenager Emmett Till. In January 2007, months before his death, Amy Goodman interviewed Ernest Withers at his studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He talked about one of his most famous pictures: a mass of striking sanitation workers holding signs reading "I am a man" at what would turn out to be the last march led by Dr. King.

Ernest Withers: "The last march of his, of Martin King, they were lined up there at [inaudible] and Hernando outside of Cleveland Temple Church, and they were there with all those ’I’m a Man’ signs. And I thought it was dramatic and historic in what it was, but I didn’t know it was ending up to be as popular. But it was the last march of Martin King."

Withers’s alleged involvement was revealed because the FBI forgot to redact his name in declassified records discussing his collaboration.

This from Democracy Now! via the inimitable Stan Banos.
P.S.: Here is the report from The New York Times.

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