[upbeat music] ♪ ♪ - Hold on 'til they get themselves ready.
- And tell me when you're ready, Rick.
- Ready when you are.
- Take it away.
- If you could start out by introducing yourself by name.
- Okay, I'm Ernest Withers.
I'm a native of Memphis.
I was born here in Memphis in North Manassas in my father's home house, which was at 1062 North Manassas.
[soft music] I was born on Manassas, raised on Manassas, baptized on Manassas, went to school on Manassas.
♪ ♪ So I'm Manassas born, Manassas bred.
When I die, they say I'm a Manassas-ite dead, I guess, you know.
♪ ♪ - America's first Negro trainees are reviewed by their chief, Lieutenant Commander... - My career in photography emerged in the military where we were soldiers in a segregated army.
♪ ♪ After they learned that I was there making pictures, and my company commander noticed the trek of white soldiers coming into my outfit, and he said, "Gee, Withers, "you had so many white boys coming down here, I thought you were running a whore house."
♪ ♪ I came back to Memphis in '46, and my brother and I, we were privy to get a GI loan and, feeling that I was an entrepreneur, opened up a neighborhood studio there.
♪ ♪ I had a slogan, "Pictures tell the story."
So I was, just--automatically became kind of a storytelling, picture-taking photographer.
[upbeat rock music] - What Ernest Withers did was unprecedented.
He photographed somewhere between a million and two million pictures.
- Ernest Withers chronicled landmark moments in the battle for civil rights.
- Delighted I am to be in Memphis tonight.
- Ernest Withers represented a treasure in the Black community.
- Several thousand negro demonstrators are participating in the largest civil rights demonstration ever in Memphis, Tennessee.
- There is complete disorder on Beale Street.
- People were murdered because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- There was kind of this feeding frenzy of intelligence.
They wanted a face, they wanted a name, they wanted an address.
- Daddy said, "Sometimes you find yourself having to do things to take care of your family."
- Photographers like Ernest Withers were telling the truth.
And before photoshop, cameras didn't lie.
- Ernest treated us like we were assets.
"Wait a minute.
Hold it, smile."
♪ ♪ - He shouldn't have sold his soul to the white man for a dollar.
♪ ♪ I don't know whether he was my friend or my enemy.
[soft piano music] ♪ ♪ - Welcome to the Withers Collection.
- My goodness.
This is truly amazing.
- So we first set it up, it was all about the work that people were very familiar with.
- As you go around, it captures those historical moments, and each of the storyboards goes more in-depth.
- Someone said, "You gotta come see the collection."
I said, "Who's Ernest Withers?"
♪ ♪ - This is a young Martin Luther King the same day at the end of the first ride, as he stood proudly in Montgomery.
♪ ♪ - And you see one, you say, "Oh, this is the one."
Then you see the next one, and you say, "Oh, no, I gotta have that one."
And before I knew it, I was just so confused, I was spinning around in circles.
This is my favorite here already.
With Kentucky Fried Chicken and--look at my man here.
That's my shot.
- This was his briefcase.
This is what he traveled with.
- Isn't that something?
- His own book.
- So that was his travel kit?
- This is the briefcase of Martin Luther King.
Martin left it with his book in the room at the Lorraine hotel the night of his assassination.
- The two parts of his coverage in journalistic work that really touched him, that was the Emmett Till trial, as well as the assassination of Martin.
- Wow, sure.
- Those two, I think, were... - Sure.
- The most important that he would share with the public, so... - Yes, and both really, like, groundbreaking images... - Yes.
- At the time.
- Tragic, tragic images.
[somber music] - I worked the Emmett Till trial in Sumner, Mississippi, where a young African American was murdered, and tied with a cotton gin fan, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River.
♪ ♪ - The grand jury investigating two white men for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago schoolboy, resumed work at 1:15.
- The man called court to order and made an address to them by saying, "We got 22 seats over here "for you white boys.
"We gotta have four seats over here for you colored boys.
"We ain't gonna mix 'em down here.
"We don't intend to mix 'em, and everybody in here is gonna be searched," and then he searched us.
- This figure of Jim Crow Law in Mississippi saying, "There are gonna be no pictures taken during testimony."
And Ernest is off in the side where they put him and other African American journalists.
♪ ♪ - I remember the interrogation of Mose Wright, and one of the attorneys asked, "Do you know the man that came that night to get "Emmett Till out of your house?
He said, "There came a rap on the door, and the man said, "Uncle Mose, Uncle Mose, "this is Mr. Bryant.
We want that boy that did that talk down in Money."
And so he say he knew Mr. Bryant because Mr. Bryant was his grocery man.
And he said, "Can you point them out?"
And he got up and pointed 'em out.
When he pointed them out, I got up and took that pic-- took his picture."
♪ ♪ - If you see the full uncropped version, there's a white guy, and he appears to be trying to block the picture.
So Ernest shot that under duress, at great risk, and took, I think, one of the most powerful pictures of the whole movement.
♪ ♪ - I was the only photographer in the courtroom that, when he pointed, took Uncle Mose Wright's picture.
♪ ♪ - You know, something doesn't exist 'till it shows up in "JET" because the white press wouldn't show it.
And Ernest Withers was one of the stringers for the Black press.
- Without the Black press, without the Black radio, without Black photojournalists like Ernest, we couldn't have kept a record.
Some of the time, I can sit and look at those pictures and cry.
I feel sad.
♪ ♪ And sometimes, I look at them, and I'm overjoyed at some of the things we overcame.
So that was extremely important to the movement.
[organ playing] [congregation singing indistinctly] ♪ ♪ - He would always, always tell me to be the best.
And it was, honestly, his funeral that really made everything kind of hit home for me.
Because at his funeral, everybody, of all sorts of backgrounds, all saying, "Be the best."
♪ ♪ - That day of his funeral, we had two things that were major that was happening in Memphis.
The president of the United States, Bush, was in town, and the funeral of Ernest Withers.
His photograph was on the front page.
The next day, a friend of mine said, "Memphis didn't even know Bush was in town because your father had passed away."
[trumpet playing] ♪ ♪ Memphis loved my father.
♪ ♪ They loved him as a person, and they loved his contribution.
♪ ♪ But that changed the day that it was announced that my father was an FBI-- alleged--informant.
- The Memphis Commercial Appeal calls Withers "a super-informant."
- The famed civil rights photographer appears to have also done double duty for the FBI.
- When the FBI told me that I was in some pictures that Ernest had taken, I didn't believe it.
"Two photos taken February 1968 of Rosetta Miller, employee of U.S. Civil Rights Commission."
- This man betrayed the confidence of you, and Martin Luther King, and all these leaders.
Why wouldn't you expect of him to say to you, "Andy, I'm working for the FBI"?
- It's like, "You mean to tell me this is what he was doing?"
- It never dawned upon any of us.
We just felt he was taking pictures.
Never thought about for who.
- Withers was also a paid snitch, selling information and photographs to the feds.
One entry, "Dr. King checked into the Lorraine Motel prior to going to a strategy meeting."
[soft music] - An FBI agent who I interviewed told me about Ernest Withers.
♪ ♪ - Second sticks.
- He said that Ernest had been an informant, had been part of this.
He said that anytime that anybody of any importance in the movement came to town, Ernest was there.
He would get pictures.
He would give them oral intelligence about what they were doing.
He referred to him as a good informant.
He was very reliable.
"Very affable guy," is what he said.
"A real nice guy."
And he had this source symbol number.
He was ME 338-R. - ME338-R. ME means Memphis, the first two letters of Memphis.
338 would be his particular specific number for him alone... ♪ ♪ Which, to me, would indicate there were 337 prior informants to him.
The dash R means "racial."
♪ ♪ - "On 10/3/68, ME 338-R (Ghetto) "advised that recently, "the controversial negro Rosetta Miller "of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Memphis "married a teacher at Hamilton High School "who was from Pittsburgh.
"The marriage lasted only one week.
"Miller has since left town, either quitting her job or being transferred to another location."
I left town, either quitting my job or being transferred.
This is so crazy.
♪ ♪ Memphis at that time was a very, very racist city, and during the movement, I was a government official.
I was the field investigator for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and we had to know what was happening in the Black community, and how were Blacks being treated, and by whom.
And that was my job.
I was everywhere, and Ernest was everywhere.
♪ ♪ - This is Memphis, a city of 600,000.
It's a modern metropolis, but it flies the flags of the Old South.
♪ ♪ - We used to say that Memphis is the biggest town in Mississippi.
It was in Tennessee, but it was really in Mississippi.
Memphis was a tough, mean, cracker town.
Violence was the order of the day.
We knew that police officials wore blue uniforms by day, but they wore white sheets at night.
♪ ♪ - Every week or two, some Black person would be beaten up or killed by the police.
Finally, the city decided to hire Black police officers.
- Dad came back from the war, and there was a call out for African American policemen to police African American communities.
So that brought about the original nine Black police.
- When we came to work as Black police officers in Memphis, there wasn't a Black policeman at all.
So we were really a pride of this solid South.
We were the pride of Dixie, I mean.
People came by the hundreds to Beale Street to just look at us.
♪ ♪ For the first several years as Black policemen, we were not allowed to arrest white people.
We would hold them until the white officers came to pick them up.
And that was a tough situation because we ourselves did not feel that we were real police officers.
♪ ♪ - At that time, you had to be a peculiar kind of Black guy to be a police officer because you had to exercise authority in the Black community, and that authority came from a source that the Black community did not respect because they were abused by white officers.
♪ ♪ - I remember going into the police station one night.
Our lieutenant had asked us to pick up a Christmas tree and bring it to him when we got off.
And when he see us coming in the door, he was sitting up on the counter talking with five or six white kids, and he started singing.
♪ Oh ♪ ♪ Here come my little ol' nigger police ♪ ♪ With me a Christmas tree ♪ It was just his nasty way of expressing himself about myself and my partner, but, you know... ♪ ♪ - The police oversaw brothels.
The police oversaw bootlegging.
The police supervised gambling.
And of course, they took a cut.
That's just the way that the police ran in this city.
And so Withers was part of that, and being on Beale Street, which was a center of vice, there was a lot of that kind of activity available.
And Withers was caught in the act of dividing proceeds from bootleg whiskey.
That's what the record said.
What Withers said is that he was set up.
- Police department decided to relieve him of duty.
♪ ♪ We all make bad choices sometimes.
♪ ♪ And before he left the Police Department, he made a lot of pictures of the neighborhood and the area down near where we worked.
♪ ♪ - Withers knew the dark side of being Black in a Southern city like Memphis.
♪ ♪ He could navigate through different segments of a society.
The camera was a passport.
His camera opened doors the average person couldn't go through.
[upbeat music] ♪ ♪ - He knew all the musicians.
He knew all the clubs.
You can see entertainers on Beale Street.
You can see people at the Goodwill and Starlight Revue.
♪ ♪ - He's got this fantastic shot of B.B.
King wearing Bermuda shorts that I just love.
And no one else has any of those images.
He's got early shots of Ike and Tina Turner, of Rufus and Carla Thomas, and they're priceless.
They're just remarkable.
- He took pictures of everything.
He probably took a picture of everybody who was anybody.
He even took a picture of me, and I was saying, "Mr. Withers, why'd you take that picture of me?
I look so funny," when I was 14-years-old.
He said, "At least you got a picture with Elvis.
At least Elvis in the picture, right?"
♪ Baby, oh, baby ♪ Mr. Withers took those pictures.
♪ I love to call you baby ♪ ♪ Baby, oh baby ♪ ♪ I love to call you baby ♪ That's enough I think.
[laughs] ♪ You make wrong things right ♪ - The shots that Ernest has of Carla Thomas, he was probably the only one who was getting them.
How the hell did he know that Isaac Hayes would be Isaac Hayes?
Or David Porter would be David Porter?
Or any of that?
We certainly were not stars, and who would be around taking pictures?
[laughs] [upbeat jazz music] ♪ ♪ - Just imagine a darkened club on Beale Street.
It's heavy in smoke, and there's loud music, and there's raucous laughter and fun going on, and he's navigating the crowd, and he approaches a table.
♪ ♪ And he's got this tremendous flash, and he's waiting for that moment to happen of the husband leaning over or the boyfriend leaning over for the kiss and then boom.
This tremendous flash goes off and it captures this moment.
♪ ♪ - He used a 22 bulb, which is a single-flash bulb.
He tended to approach his subjects straight on, which gave you a very high contrast and very clear shadows.
It tended to be a four by five, so a view camera, which you had to hold still.
The subject had to be still.
♪ ♪ Ernest was out hustling all the time.
Whether it was a marriage or a funeral, it was $5 to $10 a go.
[soft music] - He literally had jobs from sun up to sun down.
♪ ♪ - In this photograph that Mr. Withers took of me for my first communion, I am sound asleep because he had come so late at night, 10:00, and they'd dressed me, but I wasn't awake yet.
I'm sound asleep on my feet.
We never saw this photograph growing up.
The one that he gave our parents was, I was smiling, and praying, and--you know, pretending to pray beautifully.
I don't ever remember going to a public occasion that he wasn't photographing.
He was the chronicler of our community.
♪ ♪ - I would go with my dad, and you know, he made, like, a lot of Memphis lifestyle pictures.
♪ ♪ I'd go with him to weddings.
We'd take pictures.
And I got all these cameras and stuff, and I would be so hungry, and we at this wedding reception.
And I said, "Daddy, are we gonna eat?"
"No, we're not gonna eat!
I'm at work.
I'm not finished.
Stop the B--" He was adamant about that.
"You are not here to eat.
We are here.
I am on a job."
I said, "Okay."
♪ ♪ - Ernest supported a lot of children.
He was a family man.
He was our family photographer when we originally met.
♪ ♪ - I always talk about having a mom and pop type operation in that I was a single-family operation.
♪ ♪ - Dad and my mother, they became a team.
Dad would take the pictures, and they would develop the photos in our home.
♪ ♪ I can still smell the chemical from them making that development of film.
- His only darkroom was their bathroom.
They would get the kids all settled and comfortable, and then Ernest would convert the bathroom into a darkroom.
He had a dark cloth that he hung over the little window, and he had a small enlarger, and he had his trays and his washing system in the bathtub.
♪ ♪ - My mom would actually take the film that he had developed in the tub, and put that in the oven, and heat it, and that's how they dried the photos.
And at that time, they had a ferrin type plate that you would dry your pictures on.
And I could put about 15 or 20 small pictures on there, put them in the oven, And every one that I would dry, I'm thinking that we're gonna get some money for every one of them.
A dollar, dollar and a half, and I'm planning my budget from those pictures.
♪ ♪ - My mom would count the photographs, and send my dad off to the stadium the next day, and tell him how much he needed to bring back.
- In segregated Memphis, there weren't that many places that gathered a lot of people.
There was church, and there was the Black baseball league 'cause they had the Negro League stadium there.
And it was a--you know, it was a major business in Memphis, and it meant that his customers were gathered en masse there.
♪ ♪ - Usually, those parks where those Negro League teams played, they were all packed 'cause there wasn't a whole lot to do at that time.
And so a lot of it congregated around baseball during the summer.
♪ ♪ And you didn't see Ernest Withers unless you saw his camera.
You know, it was almost like a cowboy.
You know, if you didn't see them with their pistol on the side-- he always had his camera.
- And he even said, he loved baseball, but you couldn't get too involved with it.
You were there to take photographs, and the photographs had to be turned into money if they were to be any good to him.
♪ ♪ [somber music] ♪ ♪ - These are Tent City families.
- A makeshift city of tents has sprung up on a farm in Fayette County, Tennessee.
It's the new home of Negro sharecroppers and their families who were evicted for registering to vote.
Their former landlords deny this claim.
Over 100 children are among the displaced.
♪ ♪ - The farmers and the landowners of Fayette county knew that the Black population was bigger than the white population, and they resented that, and they threatened them by saying that if you registered to vote, we'd put you off the farm.
♪ ♪ - Memphis was about 40 miles from Fayette County, and that area was one of the first areas where white landowners were putting Black families off of their land.
And Dr. Withers was one of the first people to be there, get their stories, take pictures, and those pictures went to people who didn't even understand.
♪ ♪ - I was there to make pictures and deliver them to the negro newspapers.
♪ ♪ This is a young lady in Fayette County that was showing her voter registration card after she had gotten permission to vote.
♪ ♪ - Tent City was also when Withers became increasingly involved with the FBI.
He had seen in Tent City in particular how local people who understood what was going on in their community and based their protests accordingly could get all mixed up and derailed when well-meaning outside people came in to assist.
And he turned over photographs of some of the activists in Tent City to the racial agent in the Memphis office.
♪ ♪ - I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic.
- The Communists in this country had organized to infiltrate into the racial discord and discontent in the country.
- One of the big things to the FBI was identifying people.
They wanted a face, a picture they could put in a file.
They wanted a name.
They wanted an occupation.
They wanted an address.
They wanted to know who their associates were.
There was kind of this feeding frenzy of intelligence here trying to figure out what was going on.
♪ ♪ - He was a reporter.
His job was to talk to people, find out who they are, take notes, "Hey, if I need to give you a call back, can I do that?"
You have to remember that this was during the Cold War.
We became knowledgeable of the activities of the Soviet Union attempting to infiltrate and give direction to the leaders of these groups.
- Mr. Chairman, one of the FBI agents extensively involved in Memphis in 1968 is William Lawrence.
Mr. Lawrence was assigned to the Memphis field office as a case agent.
- Stand and raise your right hand to be sworn.
Do you solemnly swear the testimony you give to this Committee is the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?
- I do.
- Thank you.
- Mr. Lawrence, will you state your full name, please?
- William H. Lawrence.
- Sir, did you personally handle the racial informants in Memphis?
- I did.
- We don't know how FBI Agent Lawrence pitched Withers, but one avenue of approach would have been, "Now, Mr. Withers, you people are well "within your rights to fight for equality in this country, "but you don't want Communists in your movement "because if there are Communists in your movement, "we will crush you.
So you can help your people by helping us."
♪ ♪ - What were the nature of your duties while you were assigned to Memphis?
- I investigated criminal matters, applicant matters, civil rights matters, by investigating activities such as communism.
And then with the advent and development of the Black nationalist groups, I spent considerable time on what we would call the racial aspects of internal security.
- If I'm an FBI agent, and I recruit a man who has insight into the Civil Rights Movement, who can get me photographs, who can get me interviews, who can put me inside a meeting, I'm golden.
- I think Ernest Withers was the first Black person to come into our house.
He was there to take a family portrait.
It was unusual for Mr. Withers to use color film, but I'm pretty sure that Daddy asked for colored film and that Mr. Withers said, "Sure," you know.
Daddy had a lot of funny stories to tell about Ernest Withers, none of which I can remember, none of which had anything to do with work, but he was a friend.
- How often in the course of a month would you have given instructions to your source?
- During this period, I probably would have been in almost daily contact with a source, or maybe sometimes two, three times a week at least.
- My father was in charge of the counterintelligence.
That involved getting to know the leaders of the Black community so that they could keep Communist influencers out of their organizations.
- How would that relationship have worked?
- I would call him if I had an occasion to alert him to something.
Otherwise, I would hope that he would call me, which he frequently did.
- He saw his role as keeping the peace, and he was trying to sign others on to do the same thing.
♪ ♪ - FBI Agent Lawrence, a white guy in a tie, is not gonna infiltrate the NAACP on his own.
He needs Withers, okay?
Withers is gonna be his eyes and ears.
- Periodically, we would meet in person under what we hoped were safe conditions to personally exchange information, go over descriptions, any photographs, things of that nature.
♪ ♪ - It was awful.
My husband was overseas, and Ernest made a statement like, maybe I was dating someone, which just wasn't true.
You know, for him to say something like that, you just--you don't do a sister like that.
♪ ♪ How could a photographer, who had no money, who took pictures of Black people, travel all over the country in the movement like we did?
Who paid for it?
Everywhere we went, he was right there, Marks, Mississippi, all the way to Washington DC.
Somebody paid for Ernest to take those trips.
♪ ♪ - An active informant is going to incur personal expenses.
In Withers' instance, he would have to spend his time developing professional photographs, which he would furnish to the FBI.
I can understand why the FBI would pay for that.
And I can understand why he would expect payment for it because that was what his profession was.
♪ ♪ - I wanted to know how much he actually got paid.
I think it was somewhere in the order of 20-some thousand dollars, which would be the equivalent of about $170,000 now, which, I mean, he wasn't getting rich doing this, but at the same time, I mean, that's nothing to sneeze at.
- I just don't know about Ernest just taking money like that and becoming actually a spy on our community.
I don't know whether he was my friend or my enemy.
♪ ♪ - You have to always remember the backdrop of segregation and how it worked.
♪ ♪ You didn't tell white people no.
You did things that you felt would increase your ability to survive because you wanted to have white connections.
If they told you, "Well, look here, we need this done, we want you to do this," you don't say, "No, I'm not going to do it," because you're gonna need that resource again.
You figured out a way to say, "Well, I'll see what I can find out," so to speak.
♪ ♪ - You have to understand white and Black, colored and white in yesterday's time.
I mean, there's totally a difference.
If you're white, you're right.
If you're Black, get back.
If you're brown, you can't stick around.
If you're yellow, you're mellow, but if you're Black, get back.
So you wasn't expected to get anything with reference to what white people got.
♪ ♪ - I'm interested in telling these stories about the Invaders, about the sanitation workers, and Ernest Withers, and the movement to anyone, any time, who did not know.
♪ ♪ The Invaders were adherents to the Black Power philosophy, organized in Memphis in 1967.
We had college students, combat veterans, we had educators.
Anybody who made the choice to be politically active, these were the people I wanted to be involved with.
- There was this TV show that was on television at the time called "The Invaders."
[dramatic music] - "The Invaders."
- And it was about aliens coming from outer space.
- The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet.
Their destination, the earth.
- And they wanted to colonize Earth and make it their world.
I really identified with that.
[soft music] ♪ ♪ - I think the reason that I was so interested in the Invaders is that they were talking about doing something for African American people.
♪ ♪ We knew without a doubt that no change has ever occurred in any society in the world, wherever it is, without some physical violence.
♪ ♪ You can't get anything corrected on this earth without some violence.
It's just the way it goes.
It's just the way it is.
♪ ♪ - The Invaders really played a different role in this city.
They wanted to embrace the Black community and to say to the Black community, "We can do better than this."
There was a sense about them that they wanted to move quicker than what the civil rights and the nonviolence movement was all about.
♪ ♪ - The Invaders, we were not the Black Panthers.
But we became the foot soldiers, and because I was wearing my field jacket with "The Invaders" on the back, it became the symbol of radicalism in the city.
The sanitation workers loved it.
- 1,300 garbage collectors in Memphis have walked off the job and into the streets.
Almost all of them are Negroes, and they are turning a union fight into a civil rights battle.
- The city of Memphis at that time was a plantation.
In February, two sanitation workers were crushed to death in the back of a garbage truck.
If there was inclement weather, they would send the Black workers home without pay.
Well, these sanitation workers had gotten in the back of the truck until the weather changed.
That way, they could stay on the clock for the full day, but the compactor started up and crushed them both to death.
And this is what started the sanitation strike.
- If the men do not return to work immediately, we will have no choice but to employ others to protect the public health.
♪ ♪ - They wanted to be able to use the locker rooms.
They wanted to be able to get paid for days off.
They wanted sick pay.
- When a public official orders a group of men to "get back to work, and then we'll talk" and treats them as though they are not men, that's a racist point of view.
♪ ♪ - So they brought Dr. King to town to take up their side.
- The city awaits the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King today.
He plans to defy a federal court order which bans his second mass march in Memphis next Monday.
- Nobody wanted him to go to Memphis.
It was strictly Martin's idea.
He was determined to practice what he preached.
And what he preached was, "You gonna die, "you don't have anything to say about when you die "or how you die.
"The only thing you have something to say about is, what is it you give your life for?"
[cheers and applause] - Delighted I am to be in Memphis tonight.
- We knew that this would put the national and international light on Memphis... - You are reminding the nation that it is a crime... - And on the plight of these sanitation workers and the Poor People's Campaign.
- To live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.
You are here to demand that Memphis will see the poor.
- And when Dr. King came to town, The Invaders started doing things that made the press.
♪ ♪ We were using Molotov cocktails to set fires in garbage cans and dumpsters to keep the first responders busy overnight.
And that represented a threat.
And to Dr. Withers, the strike was like a smorgasbord for him 'cause he was everywhere taking pictures.
- I'm bringing my garbage with me tomorrow in the back of my car 'cause if the decision is not right, then by jingo, I'm not going home anymore.
I mean it!
[cheers and applause] ♪ ♪ - With regard to the local Black Power movement in Memphis, the rhetoric was, "This city needs a good race riot.
We're going to turn this city upside down."
The FBI didn't necessarily understand this.
They needed some help, and so I think that was Withers' main point of emphasis with Black power, was to gauge the likelihood of the threats of violence.
To the extent that the Invaders' threats could become real, Withers would have been very interested.
And so he monitored the Invaders very closely to see how likely they were to start a riot.
So if they were gonna get serious about this stuff, he was gonna get serious about making sure that the FBI knew.
♪ ♪ - The FBI's goal was to disrupt that movement, particularly the Invaders, to disintegrate them the same way that they disintegrated the Communist Party here.
- Hoover was determined in the 1960s to prevent the rise of what he called a Black "Messiah."
Hoover had informants in every organization of the Civil Rights Movement because any organization that in Hoover's eyes represented Black Power had to be crushed.
- Hoover was definitely trying to kill off Black Power.
They were trying to get every Black Power advocate off the street they could.
[police siren wailing] - It bothers me that the U.S. Government didn't appreciate that what we were doing was good for the country.
And Hoover could not distinguish between Black people.
He didn't see any difference between a thug on the street corner, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King.
They were all niggers.
♪ ♪ - The Federal Bureau of Investigation is as close to you as your nearest telephone.
We should all be concerned with one goal, the cooperation between police agencies.
- Mr. Lawrence, did you assist the Memphis Police Department in setting up their intelligence activities?
- I did.
It was because I knew more about intelligence activities than anyone else in the office at that time, and due to my long tenure in Memphis, knowledge of the community, things of that nature.
- The head of the Memphis police also had been in the FBI for many years, and he was very closely connected to J. Edgar Hoover.
- Would this be an indication of the kind of working relationship you had with the Memphis Police Department?
That is, helping them establish a new division and exchanging information?
- That's correct.
♪ ♪ - There's a lot of things that Ernest gave them that was unique about individuals that they couldn't have gotten by reading the newspaper, they couldn't have gotten by standing on a curb watching a march or collecting all the photos afterwards.
- Coby, he had a friend, and she was dating a policeman, and she told Coby she looked in his wallet and saw a picture of he and Cab and asked him why he had those pictures.
And the policeman told her that they had orders that if any trouble starts, they were to keep eyes on him and shoot him on sight.
It may have been pictures that they got from Mr. Withers, I don't know, but that actually happened.
♪ ♪ - There were people who believed that their daughters could be killed if the police decided to kill me.
It limited the number of dates I could get.
[chuckles] At that time, I was totally unaware that there were informants and that there were people who would do malicious things.
I lost jobs.
In fact, I was blackballed quite early.
I just didn't have enough sense to know it.
- You're sort of surprised that, oh, they got these pictures from Ernest, and you're a little bit miffed.
[crowd chanting] - Several thousand Negro demonstrators are participating in this largest civil rights demonstration ever in Memphis, Tennessee.
♪ ♪ Many of the demonstrators are carrying the sign, "I am a man."
They stretch out for several blocks.
- This was the first march that was gonna be led by Martin Luther King that I ever was gonna be participating in.
Remember, we're 11, 12, and 13, so we're very aware of what's going on now and wanting to do our part.
- I've found a couple of Dad's pictures where I was right there in the movement.
And guess what?
My mother was right there too.
- I was more nervous about him being in the Civil Rights Movement.
'Cause it was dangerous for everybody that was involved in it.
- The police are on hand.
Almost the entire force is standing by here in case any trouble might break out.
- It was a very hot day on March 28th.
People were gathered in the streets.
Everybody's waiting for King for hours.
♪ ♪ So by the time that he got there and they got him in a position to march, the crowd was at their wits' end.
- There have been shouts of Black Power and other things of which we are not allowed to put on the air.
- Everything was good until you heard that first glass break out.
And it was like all hell broke loose after that.
[glass shattering] - Chaos has just broken out downtown.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, who was supposed to lead the march, no one has any idea where he is.
He is completely engulfed in this crowd, as we are.
♪ ♪ There is complete disorder on Beale Street.
- I remember running and my mom grabbing my hand.
- And the fear to see cops with billy clubs coming after people, and you makin' up your mind, I'm not gonna be one of those people!
♪ ♪ - I'm thinking that, okay, I'm down here to get some information.
'Cause I'm carrying a notebook, and I'm trying to write down what I see and talk to somebody about what's going on, and I forgot I lived in racist Memphis.
Man, they didn't see no notebook.
They didn't see no press ticket.
They didn't see nothing.
♪ ♪ I forgot that I was Black.
And I'm about to get beat up by a policeman, and who comes along?
Mr. Withers comes along because they had a truck that they had the photographers and people on.
He's trying to inform the people, "No, no.
"He's not one of the people rioting.
He's a member of the press."
Then he tells me to get my narrow butt on that truck and quit walking up and down the street like I got some freedom or something.
And I say he saved my life 'cause I don't know how badly of a beating I would have gotten that day.
I don't know that I would even be here.
[police siren wailing] - It was the first march that King led in which his demonstrators had resorted to violence.
This was the first time that it happened from within.
♪ ♪ - They said, "We're a nonviolent movement.
"We can't be leading a march where people are busting out windows."
So they took King out of the line of march right around the same time the police charged and started beating everybody up.
The police did not have to handle it that way.
♪ ♪ - That hurt King.
King was a nonviolent passive resistance leader, and violence breaking out in his wake was the most devastating thing that had happened to him.
The FBI perspective on that event was that the Invaders had played a central role in causing the violence, that the Invaders had distributed these sign posts that you saw the famous "I AM A MAN" strike support signs mounted on to people who then used these instruments for destruction, smashing the windows, battling with the police officers.
♪ ♪ - The Invaders were blamed for all the disturbance.
But we didn't have any role at all in the march.
The night before, we discussed the information Coby got from his girlfriend, the information that I got from Miss Crenshaw.
She was the one that told me not to go to the march on the 28th because if any trouble jumped off, the Invaders would be blamed.
So it's best y'all not go.
And it was determined that we would not go to the march as a group.
Her information was good.
She was also the one that told me that Dr. Withers was an informant.
And this was during the sanitation strike.
And she said, "Well, you know, he's always taking pictures "of you and your boys.
"You got any idea what he does with all "of those pictures he takes?
Well, you know he giving 'em to the FBI."
And I'm like, "No, I didn't know."
She said, "Yeah, he talks to the FBI."
- Photos first, couple seconds if you don't mind.
And you're this one right?
- That's you?
- Yes, me with the shades.
- Can we get a little bit more?
- I got my glasses.
They're in my jacket pocket.
- So agent Lawrence in his report cited one of his informants... - Source One pointed out that... - Having heard that John B. Smith as the one having distributed these sign posts to people and having said, "Don't be afraid to use these."
- Giving out 4-foot pine poles... - That was Agent Lawrence's proof that the Invaders had started this riot.
- I've read this before.
I've seen this before.
And it's a total lie.
It was the Marshals that were giving out the signs.
And the sanitation workers were the ones given the signs.
But no, I never instructed anybody to use them.
And the young people that got signs picked them up off the street after the riot started.
And it would fit the pattern that I think went on.
He told them what they wanted to hear.
♪ ♪ - By definition, what Lawrence is reporting to headquarters on what Withers tells him is second-hand hearsay.
The agent wants to please his superiors.
♪ ♪ If you look at an agent's reports, confidential files on what an informant says, if it's not a transcript of a wiretap or a bug, you need to take them with a grain of salt.
The fact that Lawrence is able to generate report after report, after report, based on what Withers tells him, this is gold.
It doesn't matter if it's fool's gold.
- There is always something missing when white people are talking about Black people and when Black people are talking about white people, simply because we don't come from the same place.
Nobody really wants to understand that.
♪ ♪ - It's good justice is on a scale because you have to put stuff on both sides all the time.
So when I look at that scale, not just in my case, but in Dr. Wither's case, the scale and the woman holding it with the blindfold, is that, in the South, they peeked!
They peeked all the time.
You were the one behind the blindfold and couldn't see, but justice in the South was not blind.
♪ ♪ - This is our archive.
That's box 1, 2, 3, 4 is over there, 5, 6, and all the way to 120.
- A typical box looks like this, but this shows you what the potential of photographs that are stored.
The question is always asked, do we have the negative?
Well, the two have not married yet.
These are them.
You can pull the negative out, put it up to the light, and see what the content is.
4,700 images is what the world knows as Ernest Withers' work.
- A fraction of what we just saw.
- They don't even know.
- It's an archaeological dig of treasures.
♪ ♪ - I was only aware of the FBI approaching him when I came to the museum.
♪ ♪ And it did make me question things, but as I started going through the photos, I'd see seconds of his life in film, all the things he was able to accomplish, all the people he was able to meet, the reach he had.
For anyone showing any kind of interest, I just want to be able to find what you're looking for.
- My organization, the PRIZM Ensemble, we're gonna do a performance in Clayborn Temple called "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed."
And it's a multi-movement work that's for orchestra and men's chorus.
And each of the movements is a representation of an unarmed Black man that was killed.
So I'd love to have some images that would allow to be able to frame everyone's experience when they walk into the place, and also having something to take with them on their way out.
- Okay, so what I did is I researched the images that we had in our main system.
So right here you will see, over 1,300 sanitation workers were protesting, and it started off as a normal protest and ended up turning into a riot.
And during this protest, there was only one person that was killed.
And that one person was Larry Payne, a 16-year-old boy.
So here's a photo of him right here.
You see him running in the crowd.
So... - Wow.
Can you zoom?
- Clayborn Temple ended up having a funeral at the Temple for him.
- Aha, so this is taken from inside Clayborn Temple?
This is inside Clayborn Temple.
And then you also see his casket.
- Oh, wow.
There's another unarmed Black man who is a part of the history.
[exhales sharply] ♪ ♪ - During the riot, 16-year-old Larry Payne was murdered by the police when he went back to his housing project.
They claim that they saw him with a TV set, that he had looted something.
We don't know if that's true, but witnesses saw him come out with his hands up, and a police officer put a shotgun into his chest and pulled the trigger.
- There are not a lot of words that can really-- you know, there are no words.
♪ ♪ all: ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ Why do you have your guns out?
♪ ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ Why do you have your guns out?
♪ ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ Officers ♪ [vocalizing] ♪ ♪ ♪ Officers ♪ ♪ Why do you have your guns out?
♪ ♪ ♪ - You shot me.
- They were only doing their job.
- You shot me.
- But if their job requires that they stick a shotgun in the midsection of a 17-year-old boy who has his hands over his head and is saying, "Don't shoot"... - You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- We know what police brutality and harassment means, and we are through with it, and we want to see it end once and for all.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
- You shot me.
all: You shot me.
♪ ♪ - The brutality and repression in the South was something that really wasn't in any sense could be made fun of.
People were murdered 'cause they went to pray in a church.
People were murdered 'cause they walked across a street.
♪ ♪ People were murdered 'cause they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that wrong place meant Civil Rights Movement.
♪ ♪ - I remember coming across the courtyard, and Dr. King said, "Jesse, we're late."
I know we're late.
It started at 5:00, and it's 6:00 already.
We're late because of you putting on your Aramis.
[chuckles] We laughed.
- Jesse and I were on the ground, on the parking lot.
Ben Branch, who used to have a band in Memphis, came on the parking lot.
And Jesse said, "Dr. King, look who's here."
And Dr. King said, "Brother Ben."
And Dr. King was leaning over the banister.
And Dr. King said, "I want you to play "tomorrow night 'Precious Lord,' and I want you to play it real pretty."
And he stood up.
And we heard the shot.
But Doc was gone.
- He never knew what hit him.
He didn't suffer at all.
He was here.
He was not here.
[soft music] ♪ ♪ - When you see something like that, you never really recover.
It's kind of a post-traumatic syndrome.
You never really recover from such a scene.
♪ ♪ - Ah.
That's that picture the day of Martin's death, the actual assassination.
I started packing his suitcase, knowing that we were sending his stuff back home for the last time.
The interesting thing is that Ernest was in the room when all this was going on, taking pictures.
♪ ♪ - This is the window where James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin, stood on the back of the bathtub and fired the fatal shot that killed Martin Luther King.
- The fact that Martin Luther King ended up on April 4, 1968 with a bullet in his brain is connected to the political arena, and it was a very sophisticated plot with a long line of gangsters, Dixie Mafia, FBI, and Memphis Police involved in this.
♪ ♪ - At that time, I worked homicide.
And I had to find the security people to secure Dr. King.
And I never have been able to understand why they had called me off on that particular day that Dr. King was killed.
I felt that something was happening then because that was rather unusual.
♪ ♪ - The FBI or the Memphis police moved Dr. King from his lower room in the corner.
That room couldn't be seen from across the street.
The FBI or the Memphis police asked them to move him upstairs because it was better for security.
Well, it was better-- he was a better target upstairs.
♪ ♪ - The FBI knows everything that's going on in anybody's life they want to know.
They knew everything about King, his movement.
They knew where Ray was.
They knew Ray was up there.
They knew Ray had that gun.
And nobody can tell me anything else.
- Informants don't really know where their information is headed.
I just don't believe that these informants were bringing back information, thinking that he would be assassinated that night.
I just don't believe that.
But I do believe that there were four or five informants that's involved, and we know, according to the FBI reports, that Ernest Withers was one of them.
♪ ♪ - I can't imagine that anything that was involved in his assassination depended on Ernest Withers.
When he was on the police force, he had to work with the FBI in some sense.
And so what I would assume is that because he was Black, because he has been in law enforcement, because they know him, because they caught him dirty, they've got control over him.
And they make him do what they want him to do.
♪ ♪ And maybe they don't want Ernest Withers to be involved in the plot to assassinate Martin Luther King because they've got enough other people to handle that.
♪ ♪ - Interestingly, Ernest was everywhere at all times, but he missed the big story.
He wasn't on the balcony in April of 1968 when Martin Luther King was shot.
- That day, I went to court as a part of the press, taking pictures of what went on.
And then after the court was settled that evening, Jim Lawson asked me could I ride Andy Young from the federal courthouse back to the Lorraine Hotel.
And of course, I dropped him at the hotel, and came back, and was sitting in my office down there, and the phone rang, and it was my partner's wife.
She said, "Turn the radio on.
Martin Luther King been shot."
♪ ♪ - Joseph Louw, who was just a few doors away from King, he heard the shots, and he rushed out, and he got the very famous picture on the balcony of people pointing towards the possible assassin.
But Louw really didn't know what to do with 35mm film, so he asked Ernest Withers if he could use his studio to process the film, and Withers of course said yes, and he brought him to the darkroom.
- I knew exactly what to do.
I just told him to put the film in the paper box, and went in, and loaded the two rolls, and developed the two rolls of film.
- So Withers had a great deal to do with that photograph even though he didn't take it.
He then helped him get out of Memphis because he knew everybody, including policemen, got him to a plane, and he flew off around midnight to New York, and the pictures were printed in "Life" magazine the next couple days.
♪ ♪ If it wasn't for Ernest Withers, probably we would have never seen those photographs.
- I put an exhibit of a good percentage of the pictures that I had of Martin King in the room, so when the people came, they'd have something other than just the room to look at.
♪ ♪ - He was just so horrified, he said, that he wasn't there the moment that it happened.
I said, "Well, Daddy, what could you have done?"
♪ ♪ - I can't say that I've seen my father cry, but I will tell you that my father was very, very hurt.
♪ ♪ They're trying to say that he "betrayed the movement."
And I can honestly say, you're wrong.
Because his work started way before then.
And he used a skill in which he was very good at to protect lives.
♪ ♪ And that's my position.
♪ ♪ - I got news for you.
If you think that Ernest Withers just took pictures of what we were doing, he also took pictures of what America was doing.
♪ ♪ Perspective is everything.
- Some of the things that he showed through his pictures touched far more lives than the few lives that he touched as an informant.
The volume of his work speaks louder than anything.
♪ ♪ - Ernie didn't do it with any intent to hurt us.
He did it with the intent to make some money at the expense of the FBI.
[laughs] And it was money they wasted.
♪ ♪ - I'm not sure of his legacy now.
I'm just not sure, which is tragic for his heirs, who will continue to fight to say, "He isn't who they say he is."
But I say to them, when you're children at home with mother, you don't know what daddy is doing out there in the field with a camera.
♪ ♪ - Say, "Hi, Nana."
- [gasps] Hi, Harper!
This is my Harper Ava Rose, ten fingers and ten toes.
♪ ♪ - This is a special, special day.
All of my beloved family is here.
- Lord Father Jehovah, we ask that you be with us.
We ask that you continue to help us the way you want us to go, the way you want us to be used, and allow us to be humble enough to accept whatever role that's been put before us.
- I think that everybody at this table, at one time that was old enough to carry a camera or a bag, you went with him, okay.
- Granddaddy, every time he snapped the camera, he told a story.
- It's time for the world to understand who he is, what he was, and why he did what he did.
- What we have will stand the test of time.
Don't let anyone take who we are away.
We must stay united.
We must understand our purpose because what we share is powerful.
- ♪ Some are going with you ♪ ♪ Some you can't put down ♪ ♪ Some that you are leaving ♪ ♪ Some never to be found ♪ ♪ Might get a funny feeling ♪ ♪ Something's been overlooked ♪ ♪ But every journey forward ♪ ♪ Two roads ♪ [Valerie June's "Two Roads"] ♪ But one you took ♪ - You have to have your own vision.
You have to have a sense of morality, honesty.
Is it true?
Does it hurt?
What good does it do?
Ain't nothing that nobody can tell you.
Your moral character... [chuckles] Gives you the qualities to be what you is and not what you ain't.
My father said that.
'Cause if you ain't what you is, you is what you ain't.
- ♪ Two roads, two roads ♪ ♪ Two roads, but one you took ♪ ♪ Two roads, two roads ♪ ♪ Two roads, one you-- ♪ ♪ Two roads, two roads ♪ ♪ Two roads ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Two roads ♪ - ♪ Oh-oh-ooh ♪ ♪ Oh-oh-ooh, oh-oh-ooh ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Oh-oh-ooh, oh-oh-ooh ♪ ♪ Oh-oh-ooh ♪ ♪ ♪ - Next up on Independent Lens, we travel around Jamaica with twin brothers Don and Ron Brodie as they rediscover their roots in "Driver Radio: Jamaica."
- This isn't a pothole.
What do you call it?
[laughter] - I'm, like, clenched.
[all grunting] - Okay.
- We're Ron and Don Brodie, first generation Jamericans.
When we were little, our parents would bring us to Jamaica to learn about our heritage.
- You think this one is good?
- Now we're back to navigate our own route with help from local drivers along the way.
This is "Driver Radio: Jamaica."
- When I come to Jamaica, as soon as I touch down, whether it be on the North Coast or down here in Kingston, I feel this instant calm.
[mellow music] ♪ ♪ Yeah, I think if you go straight, there's a shopping center where there's a Tastee's Patties.
- In the urban, urban areas of Kingston, in a little bar, or it could be out in the remote country, I get the same vibe when I come here, just because I know where I'm coming from.
Jamaica's a place that exists with real people, good culture, good food, beautiful beaches, amazing music, good weed smoke, everything.
It's a good starting point to get ideas flowing and things off the ground.
[upbeat music] - Kingston's completely different from where I grew up.
♪ ♪ You have that density, the traffic.
- I've driven in Jamaica before, but man, it's kind of a terrifying thing to think about doing again.
- With the appropriation of Jamaican culture around the world, we wanted to catch Kingston's city vibe.
To get out and explore, we radioed for a driver to take us downtown.
[air horns blare] - With dancehall becoming one of Kingston's biggest attractions, our first stop was to the Dancehall Hostel.
We learned about culture from the inner city that's continually growing more popularity throughout the world.
- I'm Ron.
It's a pleasure to meet you.
- [laughs] - They call me Orville Xpressionz or the Dancehall Professor, and you are presently in the Dancehall District.
- Are you seeing a lot more people coming to places like this in search of authentic experiences?
- Yeah, definitely.
They go to the five-star hotels, but to really get a true slice of Jamaica, they have been coming into different communities.
We have seen people from so many different places around the world, all learning more about not just dancehall, but the whole Jamaican culture.
- This downtown market has become actively competitive with the rising thirst for an authentic dancehall experience.
- I don't think there's anywhere else in the world that does what Jamaica does where party is concerned.
You can go to at least three parties a night every night in Kingston.
If people know the history of Jamaica, parties feed the community.
- The man who sell the soup, the man who sell the peanut on the rack, the man who is selling herb, the taxi drivers, everybody can benefit, and everybody can feel like a part of this tourist industry that we have that's booming.
[rhythmic clanking] ♪ ♪ ♪♪ - After spending a full day in Kinston, we radioed for Casper to get us out of the city.
Looking for an escape, he seemed like the perfect person to start an adventure with.
♪ ♪ We reached the parish of St. Elizabeth, a mainly agricultural community stretching from the island's mineral-rich western center to the south shore.
The higher elevation leading back down the coast provides a cool breeze and welcomed escape from the city's heat.
- We wanted to understand the main differences between city and country, so we asked a group of local taxi operators for their perspective.
- It's late night.
Where are you gonna take a passenger who wants to get something to eat?
- It would seem that the general consensus is, Jamaica's KFC is much better than whatever's manufactured in the United States.
[playful electronic music] ♪ ♪ - Hey, hey, hey, hey!
- Seems like you can't take the yaad from out the yaadie.
[upbeat music] ♪ ♪ ♪♪