|The First Art Newspaper on the Net
||Established in 1996
|| Sunday, October 22, 2017
|Newspaper's Revelation Rocks Civil Rights Photographer Ernest C. Withers' Family|
Andrew Withers, from left, Frances Williams and Rosalind Withers-Guzman, all children of photographer Ernest Withers, react to a story about their father being an FBI informant during the civil rights movement in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010. The Withers children spoke in a museum housing many of their father's photographs. AP Photo/Lance Murphey.
By: Adrian Sainz, Associated Press Writer
MEMPHIS (AP).- The startling revelation that a revered civil rights photographer also was an FBI informant who tipped investigators about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others has left his children denying he was a snitch and spurred some movement veterans to try to explain why he might have helped the feds.
This was to be the season when the late civil rights photographer Ernest C. Withers would be honored for his historic work, with his photos displayed at a museum bearing his name.
Instead, an investigation by The Commercial Appeal unmasked him as an informant who regularly tipped authorities about civil rights movement participants from at least 1968 to 1970.
"Personally, and as a family, we do not believe what has been alleged. It still has to be proven," Withers' youngest daughter, Rosalind Withers, told The Associated Press in an interview at the unfinished museum on Memphis' Beale Street, set to open later this year. She said the report provoked shock and disbelief.
The newspaper reviewed thousands of pages of federal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, providing a glimpse into the FBI's surveillance of civil rights leaders.
D'Army Bailey, a former Memphis judge and activist, said colleagues knew the FBI was watching.
"It's a very serious and disturbing thing, it's not a surprising thing," Bailey said, adding that he suspects Withers wasn't the only one passing information on to the FBI.
"If you take it all the way back to slavery, there was never a successful slave revolt because the house Negroes would go and tell the boss man what the field Negroes were planning," Bailey said. "And this is all part of the same pattern. It teaches us a lesson that the more things change, the more they stay the same."
Ernest Withers, often called "the original civil rights photographer," died in 2007 at the age of 85.
His crisp black-and-white pictures chronicled the seminal Emmett Till murder trial in 1955, racial integration at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the 1968 sanitation workers' strike in Memphis that brought King to the city where he was assassinated.
Withers marched with King, and was beaten by police while covering Medgar Evers' 1963 funeral. Relatives tell how white bystanders would hurl insults or spit at him as he covered civil rights marches.
But the FBI documents obtained by The Commercial Appeal present a story of spying and secrecy.
The newspaper did not have access to Withers' informant file because it is sealed. The Justice Department twice denied The Commercial Appeal's requests for that file and won't acknowledge it exists, the newspaper reported.
Instead, the government released 369 pages related to a 1970s public corruption probe that targeted Withers, who pleaded guilty in 1979 to extorting kickbacks from a nightclub owner while he was a Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent. Those pages included redacted references to informants, but in one instance the FBI failed to hide a single reference to Withers' informant number, ME 338-R.
The newspaper then studied more than 7,000 pages of other FBI reports released 30 years ago under FOIA for references to the number. Those reports pinpoint specific actions by Withers and show he was one of several informants.
Withers proved "most conversant with all key activities in the Negro community," according to an FBI report cited by the newspaper,
It's not clear if Withers was paid for his information. However, retired Marquette University professor Athan Theoharis, an expert who reviewed the newspaper's findings, said Withers fits the profile of a paid informant who was closely supervised by area agents.
"It would be shocking to me that he wasn't paid," Theoharis told the newspaper.
During the sanitation workers' strike, Withers met with two FBI agents in Memphis, the newspaper found. A report indicates informant ME 338-R Withers supplied them a newsletter listing names and photographs of community leaders who likely organized the strike.
The day before King's April 4, 1968, assassination, the informant passed on details about a high-level strategy session at the Lorraine Hotel between King and young militants who had a role in the strike. Withers also revealed details from King's funeral in Atlanta, reporting that two Southern Christian Leadership Conference workers planned to return to Memphis "to resume ... support of sanitation strike," the newspaper reported.
In response to those nuggets and others in the story, some activists of the era acknowledged they were approached by the FBI or thought they were shadowed by the agency at one time or another.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, then a close aide to King, said no one suspected Withers was an informant. Although Withers had access to the leaders, he was not in any "decision-making, influencing position."
"He was a basic photographer who was always around," Jackson said. "He was a man we had high regard for."
Warner Dickerson, a former teacher who now heads the NAACP's Memphis office and knew Withers well, said the photographer was "part of the 'hood, disadvantaged and denied."
Dickerson said Withers had selfish motives and committed a "subtle betrayal," but he expressed sympathy for the man who had children to raise.
"I don't think he was a mean person, I don't think he sold the race out," Dickerson said. "You cannot ignore the fact that he needed money ... It wasn't like he gave information to the FBI who used that to murder my people.
"I'm not quick to judge people," Dickerson added. "You have to walk in their shoes sometime before you can understand what motivates them to do that."
To his children, Withers was just a photographer, a charitable family man and a believer in King's message of racial equality.
Andrew Jerome Withers, Rosalind Withers and Frances Williams vow to do their own FOIA request and talk to the FBI themselves in efforts to clear their father's name.
"It will not diminish his legacy," said Andrew Withers, known to friends as "Rome." ''If you take a survey of Memphis, ask the people in the streets, you'll probably get 10 out of 10 that say 'I can't believe it.'"
Perhaps their biggest concern, and one that was echoed by movement veterans like Memphis resident Maxine Smith, was that Withers is not alive to respond to the revelations.
"We know that his good name will overcome anything that has come to him in his death," Rome Withers said. "He would be awfully mad for somebody to bring up an issue that has no proof."
Associated Press Writer Lucas Johnson in Nashville contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
September 17, 2010
Do or Die: The Human Condition in Painting and Photography at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Newspaper's Revelation Rocks Civil Rights Photographer Ernest C. Withers' Family
Sotheby's Sets Record for Any Single Print Sold at Auction
New House Record at Christie's for the Most Expensive Item Sold Online
Sotheby's Asia Week Sales in New York Total $27,649,251
New Works in Bronze and Steel by John McCracken at David Zwirner
Smithsonian American Art Museum Announces E. Carmen Ramos as Curator for Latino Art
Former Director of the Nelson-Atkins Ted Coe has Died
Mark Twain: A Skeptic's Progress Opens at the Morgan Library
Dr. Michael W. Schantz appointed to Serve as Executive Director of The Heckscher Museum of Art
Rare Chinese Woodblock Prints on Display at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Peter Blum Gallery Shows Works of Art by Matthew Day Jackson
Virtual Fire by Thyra Hilden and Pio Diaz to Rage in the Colosseum for Art
Ellen Lesperance Named 2010 Betty Bowen Award Winner
Sotheby's Presents Its Strongest Arts of The Islamic World Sale Ever Staged
Art Institute Showcases Seventeen Major Works of Pre-Columbian Art from Mexico
Shortlist Announced: Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2010
Michael Dweck's American Mermaids Opens at acte2galerie in Paris
Exhibition Explores a Foundation for Chinese Contemporary Art
Bold and Powerfully Inventive Artist Salvator Rosa Featured in Exhibition
Crystal Bridges Museum Hires Rod Bigelow as Deputy Director
Public Art Fund Presents a New Project by Ryan Gander Entitled The Happy Prince
Major Bruno Di Bello Retrospective Opens at Fondazione Marconi
Bauhaus Archive Commemorates Hajo Rose's 100th Anniversary with Exhibition
Saint Louis Art Museum Receives Major Gift from Danforth Family
Extending the Runway: Tatiana Sorokko Style Makes U.S. Debut
Rare Arcimboldo Painting Acquired by the National Gallery of Art
Copy of Annie Leibovitz's 'John and Yoko' Up for Auction
The City Bakery Opens Birdbath Café at New Museum on the Bowery
New Works, Inspired on Childhood Games, by Adam Fuss at Cheim & Read
Fossil of Giant, Bony-Toothed Bird from Chile Sets New Record for Wingspan
Tate Appoints Jessica Morgan as The Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art
Spectrum Jesus by Keith Coventry Scoops UK's Biggest Painting Prize
Official: Missing Painting Found by New York City Doorman
New Work by Renowned Sculptor and Glass Artist Dale Chihuly at Marlborough
Hitler's Car Gift to Nepal King to Get a New Life
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- $37.7 million bowl sets Chinese ceramic auction record at Sotheby's Hong Kong
2.- Major new show at Picasso Museum focuses on pivotal year in Picasso's life and work
3.- 63 Dutch Masters return home to Holland for an exhibition at the Hermitage Amsterdam
4.- Exhibition reveals new insights into Renoir's celebrated "Luncheon of the Boating Party"
5.- Nazi-looted Pissarro painting at centre of legal tussle
6.- The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art presents 'Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandt's Etchings'
7.- Pristine Hermès Himalayan Gris Cendre Birkin bag sells for $112,500 at Heritage Auctions
8.- Tom Petty, heartland rocker with dark streak, dead at 66
9.- Exhibition presenting the art of Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí opens in London
10.- Private collectors using online appraisal platform to get multiple estimates from top auction houses
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.