Stories like this sicken me because it is so many covered up stories of numerous informants who helped to dismantle the civil rights movement and organizations like the Black Panthers by providing information to the CIA.
I don’t care what beautiful photos this guy took, if these allegations are true he was a disgrace and ultimate sellout to his people.
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.
Bernard Lee, tie undone, looking weary yet fiery.
Andrew Young raising his palm to keep order.
Ben Hooks and Harold Middlebrook gazing pensively as King’s briefcase sits nearby, opened, as if awaiting his return.
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.
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.
The April 10, 1968, report, which identifies Withers only by his confidential informant number — ME 338-R — is among numerous reports reviewed by The Commercial Appeal that reveal a covert, previously unknown side of the beloved photographer who died in 2007 at age 85.
Those reports portray Withers as a prolific informant who, from at least 1968 until 1970, passed on tips and photographs detailing an insider’s view of politics, business and everyday life in Memphis’ black community.