Civil Rights

The Secret Life of Ernest Withers

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The Memphis Commercial Appeal has an explosive exposé about the late Ernest Withers, a photographer famous for covering the civil rights movement:

Stop snitching.

A veteran freelancer for America's black press, Withers was known as "the original civil rights photographer," an insider who'd covered it all, from the Emmett Till murder that jump-started the movement in 1955 to the Little Rock school crisis, the integration of Ole Miss and, now, the 1968 sanitation strike that brought King to Memphis and his death….

The grief-stricken aides photographed by Withers on April 4, 1968, had no clue, but the man they invited in that night was an FBI informant—evidence of how far the agency went to spy on private citizens in Memphis during one of the nation's most volatile periods.

Withers shadowed King the day before his murder, snapping photos and telling agents about a meeting the civil rights leader had with suspected black militants.

He later divulged details gleaned at King's funeral in Atlanta, reporting that two Southern Christian Leadership Conference staffers blamed for an earlier Beale Street riot planned to return to Memphis "to resume … support of sanitation strike"—to stir up more trouble, as the FBI saw it.

And the spying went well beyond that. Read the whole thing.