Ernest Withers

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Ernest Withers
Born (1922-08-07)August 7, 1922
Died October 15, 2007(2007-10-15) (aged 85)
Occupation Freelance photographer, FBI informant
Notable work(s) Photographs of the segregated South in the 1950s-1960s, Negro league baseball, and the Memphis blues scene

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.


Early life[edit]

Withers was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to a postal worker father and exhibited interest in photography from a young age. During World War II he received training at the Army School of Photography. After the war, Withers served as one of Memphis' first African-American police officers.[1]


Withers' images captured America for nearly 60 years, preserving the good and the bad, in particular, racism. He traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his public life. His coverage of the Emmett Till murder trial brought national attention to the racial violence taking place during the 1950s in Mississippi, among other places. Withers appeared in a TV documentary about the murdered 14-year-old entitled The American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Withers and his wife Dorothy had eight children together.[2]


In 2007 Withers died from the complications of a stroke in his hometown of Memphis.

FBI informant[edit]

In 2013, the FBI released documents that confirm that Withers served as a paid informant from 1958 to 1972. Federal Bureau of Investigation. He reported on the activity of several Civil Rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr.. CNN report feb 23, 2013[3][4]


  • Worley, William (1998). Beale Street: Crossroads of America's Music. Addax Pub Group Inc. ISBN 1-886110-18-2. 
  • Withers, Ernest (2000). Pictures Tell the Story : Ernest C. Withers Reflections in History. Chrysler Museum of Art. ISBN 0-940744-68-6. 
  • Withers, Ernest (2001). The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs. Studio. ISBN 0-670-03031-7. 
  • Withers, Ernest (2005). Negro League Baseball. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-5585-7. 


  1. ^ "Ernest Withers". The Times (London). 27 October 2007. 
  2. ^ a b Peterson, Alison J. (17 October 2007). "Ernest Withers, Civil Rights Photographer, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 October 2007. 
  3. ^ Perrusquia, Marc (12 September 2010). "Photographer Ernest Withers doubled as FBI informant to spy on civil rights movement". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Brown, Robbie (13 September 2010). "Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 

External links[edit]