A stunning newspaper report alleges the late African-American photographer Ernest Withers, who snapped some of the most recognizable images from the civil rights movement, was doing double duty as an FBI informant, providing intelligence on the likes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The man known as the “civil rights photographer” spied on the civil rights movement for the FBI.
“It’s very sad that someone would have the audacity to print something of that magnitude without him here to defend himself,” says Rosalind Withers, the daughter of famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers. Rosalind seems disheartened by the Sunday article which painted her father the most trusted Civil Rights photographer as an FBI informant.
“We, as a family, none of us have ever heard anything like that,” she continues.
The commercial appeal claims they traced the FBI documents to the photographer because the FBI censors failed to black out his informant number. The claim states that Withers was also allegedly on the payroll of J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I, and went by informant number ME 338-R. This February 23, 1968 document shows he told the FBI about fighting among black leaders during the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike.
The documents also say that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke with the sanitation workers a few weeks before his assassination, Withers gave the FBI a newsletter identifying a list of strike supporters.The paper even goes on to say this April 10th document shows Withers passed on details from King’s funeral.
Rosalind Withers is wary of believing information that’s solely based on a number, she says that the fact that her father shined a light on Civil Rights atrocities makes the notion that he was an informant contradictory.
“I don’t believe it. This whole thing is based on one thing, which is a number. Do we know this number was assigned to him? Where’s the proof of that? And then is that number only assigned to an individual or is it assigned to a project? There are so many speculations,” she says. She says that the family will not take this lying down.
“If he was doing something of that nature, wouldn’t they hinder him from even doing what he is famous for?,” she continues. “We are going back and looking through some of his stuff. We have not been able to prove anything other than the fact my father was where he said and everybody knew that.”
Rosalind feels the article was a one-two punch. Her father died three years ago, and she recently lost her brother.