September 2010 Theme: Now's The Time...Make It Happen...
topic: "Concerning Our Father, Brother & Friend, Ernest Withers: The Civil Rights Generation Speaks Out!"Part 1
Prime Minister of the Memphis Invaders, a Black Panther-styled militant group based in Memphis. Was considered 'the most dangerous man in Memphis' during the late 1960s. Affectionately called Withers "my daddy." Unknown to Watson, Withers routinely reported on him. Reports indicate Withers told FBI agents Watson was a thief and a conman and planned an armed takeover of the LeMoyne-Owen College campus. Interviewed this year, Watson had no clue. "If he was (an informant) I don't know anything about it ... He would call me his son. (bio sketch courtesy of the Commercial Appeal)
Was He Or Wasn't He?
“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."
Ernest Withers was once called The Dean Of Civil Rights Photographers for his amazing ability to be on the scene to turn extraordinary history-in-the-making-events with his camera into acclaimed iconic moments for posterity. Whether it was photographing the Emmett Till Trial, Dr. King's first ride on a Montgomery City Bus after a successful 381 day bus boycott, The Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike complete with the very universal I AM A Man protest placards or the tragic death scene of a King for all of humanity (MLK), Mr. Withers' artistry spoke truth to power to both the good and the bad of the human condition and his work is forever seared (and defiantly so) into the consciousnesses of the National Memory.
However, with the revelation of him allegedly being involved with the FBI as an informant, his character, motives and intentions have now all been called into question. A person once so trusted and revered that he was given intimate and unrestricted access to some of the most dynamic personalities and icons of a people's movement is now being labeled as a traitor and Judas. With the scheduled opening of the Ernest C. Withers Museum, his former studio, on legendary Beale Street next month, and the Withers Family waging a legal battle for control over their late father's intellectual property, will this accusation forever tar and feather an otherwise deserving and invaluable aesthetic legacy of providing emotionally riveting teaching moments in images from such a turbulent and yet hopeful time in U.S. history?
One must also question the timing of this revelation:
*Who is served by amplifying the shortcomings, both real and perceived, of Ernest Withers the man?
*Who will control the narrative of a People's movement once control over Withers' invaluable contribution to a People's history is settled in the courts?
*What is to be gained and what is to be lost?
*What role has the U.S. Government played in undermining the civil liberties and human rights of its citizens?
*What really was the nature and quality of the information given to the FBI by Bro. Withers?
*Was Bro. Withers' participation consensual or forced through the FBI's abuse of power?
*Did Bro. Withers' supposed information sharing truly undermine the nature and purpose of a People's Movement?
*Did people needlessly get killed or sent to prison because of his alleged collaboration?
*In terms of being an alleged informant with an impressive professional legacy, how does Withers fare in comparison with other proven informants and exceptional peers from the Civil Rights Era such as Thurgood Marshall and Alex Haley?
In a 4-part series, W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News attempts to provide food for thought analysis on the subject by talking with the folks who knew Mr. Withers the best: his family, civil rights movement veterans and journalists who covered the American Civil Rights Movement. We will also garner responses from this current generation of news media journalists. We will attempt to put both Mr. Withers the man and his work in their appropriate contexts, something the corporate news media has failed miserably at doing up to this point. What will be revealed will be very eye opening and will prompt the listeners and participants alike to face uncomfortable truths and questions that need to be answered with more than just nuanced responses and cliches from a clueless pundit. It will also force many in the general public to rethink their previous positions on the matter as well.
In the words of Flavor Flav: Don't Believe The Hype!
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