Ernest Withers died in 2007 at the age of 85. He was a prominent photographer during the Civil Rights Movement and worked closely with those apart of the era. He was around with Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and the Memphis Sanitation Strike in Tennessee, 1968. However, in 2010 a story broke out where evidence surfaced that from 1968 to 1970 Withers had served as a paid informant for the FBI. After Withers death, 97 years after the fact, the rights of his work are protected by law. He was a freelance photographer for a black press at the time. Many are trying to argue that his works rights are beginning to diminish after death, which is untrue. A person’s work remains property with several years after death and goes into the hands of family members who are alive. Withers was in attendance for the funeral of Dr. King and he was helping the FBI by informing them that aids were going to be helping those involved in the Sanitation Strike. Evidence surfaced when news broke that an informant (which was clearly Withers) was taking photographs and giving it to the FBI. It is unclear what his motives were but many analyze that it could have been due to the fact that Withers wanted to always be a cop and got fired after being caught up in a scheme. People who were close with Withers also told reporters that he was a “Patriot, a conservative, and fought in World War 2,” but no one knows how much/if he got paid for his work. Withers also had 8 children and a family to take care.
Was Withers a legacy? The answer can be ambiguous depending on who you ask. It is a very complicated situation as some people think he betrayed the black community threatening the jobs of others because they were seen in the company of others. Was Withers a photographer? Or was Withers an FBI Agent? This podcast was very interesting to listen to because it is very difficult to determine where he stands. I personally believe that Withers was more in it for the photographic proof of the mistreatment for the African American community at the time. It is a very sticky situation to be in, but it is unfortunate that even after death, someone’s life is carefully analyzed and discussed until some sort of answer is given. In a situation like this, it is very difficult to give a definitive answer because there is no way in determining whether his motives meant well or not.