A prominent photographer who worked in the trenches during the Civil Rights era has been revealed to have also been a paid informant for the FBI at the time.
According to a report by Democracy Now, Ernest Withers worked closely with the FBI to monitor civil rights activists during the 1960s. Withers is also said to have provided photographs, background information and scheduling details to two agents in FBI’s Memphis field office.
As a photographer, Withers captured Rev. Martin Luther King on film during several marches and was the only lens man to cover the entire trial of those accused in the murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black Chicago teenager who was lynched for whistling at a White woman while visiting relatives in the south.
Withers died in October 2007 at age 85.
In an interview earlier that year at his studio in Memphis, Withers remembered one of his most famous photos , a march of striking sanitation workers holding signs reading, “I am a Man.” That march would turn out to be the last led by King.
“That’s the last march of Martin King. They were lined up there outside of Temple Church and they were there with all those `I’m a Man’ signs,” Withers said at the time. ”It was dramatic and historic, but I didn’t know it would end up to be as popular. But it was the last march of Martin King.”
According to Democracy Now, Withers’ actions as an informant were revealed because the FBI failed to redact his name in declassified records detailing his collaborations.
Civil Rights movement veterans told the Associated Press that they are at loss to explain the motives of Withers. His children deny the allegations.
“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 AP.