Photo: Mule train leaves for Washington, Poor People’s March, Marks, MS, May 1968 © Ernest C. Withers, Courtesy Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA
Ernest Withers (August 7, 1922 – October 15, 2007) was an African American freelance photographer famous for his black and white images of the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s, Negro league baseball, and the Memphis blues scene.
Withers’ coverage of the Emmett Till murder trial brought national attention to the racial violence taking place during the 1950s in Mississippi, among other places. He traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his public life and was in Dr. King’s room in the Lorraine Hotel on the night he was assassinated.
During his lifetime, Withers earned the nickname “The Original Civil Rights Photographer.” He risked his own safety to capture images of the era; he was beaten, shot at and harassed. After his death, however, an investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper revealed that Withers also worked as a F.B.I. informant and was paid for information about many of the Movement’s activities and leaders, including Dr. King.