Ernest Withers

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Dr. Ernest Columbus Withers, Sr.
Born (1922-08-07)August 7, 1922
Died October 15, 2007(2007-10-15) (aged 85)
Occupation Freelance photographer, Memphis policeman
Notable work Photographs of the segregated South in the 1940s-2000s, Negro league baseball, and the Memphis blues scene, Pictures Tell the Story by Ernest C. Withers, other books including Ernest C. Withers The Memphis Blues Again-Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs, and many Jet Magazine photographs and more.
Home town Memphis, Tennessee

Dr. Ernest C. Withers (August 7, 1922 – October 15, 2007) was a FBI informant and a freelance photographer on famous for his black and white images of the segregated South in the 1940s and 1960s, Negro league baseball, and the Memphis blues scene.


Early life

Dr. Ernest C. Withers was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Arthur Withers and Pearl Withers of Marshall County, Mississippi; he had a step-mother known as Mrs. Minnie Withers. Ba Ba [Father] Withers exhibited interest in photography from a young age. He took his first photograph in high school after his sister gave him a camera she received from a classmate. He met his wife Dorothy Curry of Brownsville, Tennessee (they remained married for 66 years), at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee. 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]


Dr. 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. Dr. Withers appeared in a TV documentary about the murdered 14-year-old entitled The American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till.[2]

Personal life

Dr. Withers and his wife Dorothy had eight children together (seven boys and one girl). He also had a second daughter from Memphis, Tennessee. All of his sons accompanied him as apprentice photographers at different points in his career. His business was called Ernest C. Withers and Sons Photography. Dr. Withers enjoyed traveling, visiting family members and entertaining guest at his home including Brock Peters, Jim Kelly, Eartha Kitt, Alex Haley, Ivan van Sertima, Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and many others in the entertainment world and black consciousness movement. He attended Gospel Temple Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He was also an all-round (high-school to professional) sports enthusiast.[2]


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

FBI informant

In 2013, the FBI released documents that confirm that Dr. 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.. Dr. Withers sons Joshua Billy Withers and Andrew Jerome (Rome) Withers dispute this claim and are currently working to clear their father's name, and collect royalties from his work. In the September 2010 issue of the Tri-State Defender, "Pictures Don't Lie", the two brothers begin to tell their side of the story. On December 29, 2014, by the request of Rome Withers, a Facebook page (Ernest C. Withers Sr. Foundation) was created to help generate support for his family and to educate the public. CNN report February 23, 2013.[3][4]


  • Worley, William (1998). Beale Street: Crossroads of America's Music. Addax Pub Group Inc. ISBN 1-886110-18-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Withers, Ernest (2000). Pictures Tell the Story : Ernest C. Withers Reflections in History. Chrysler Museum of Art. ISBN 0-940744-68-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Withers, Ernest (2001). The Memphis Blues Again: Six Decades of Memphis Music Photographs. Studio. ISBN 0-670-03031-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Withers, Ernest (2005). Negro League Baseball. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-5585-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. "Ernest Withers". The Times. London. October 27, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Peterson, Alison J. (October 17, 2007). "Ernest Withers, Civil Rights Photographer, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Perrusquia, Marc (September 12, 2010). "Photographer Ernest Withers doubled as FBI informant to spy on civil rights movement". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved September 14, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Brown, Robbie (September 13, 2010). "Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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