Are you f'ing kidding me???

Joseph Rosen jarosenphoto@NYC.RR.COM
Tue Sep 14 07:37:40 EDT 2010


  Jeff,
I got word of this via a posting on Facebook yesterday, linked to the
Memphis Commercial Appeal article.

Below is a comment I added to a posting regarding this on Dick
Waterman's FB page.

I cannot say I knew him, but I met and shared a few treasured moments
w/ Mr. Withers. He impressed me as a kind man and a survivor. Some of
his stories of covering the Civil Rights movement were harrowing.
I feel that this is a partial story, with vast gaps and he is not
here to answer them or give his account.
I have to wonder a few things:
What might have the consequences been of not cooperating? It's not
simple.
The FBI often has a firm grasp of the obvious. Were they getting
secrets or virtually public information?
Could there have been an element of "grinnin' in their face?"
Not having been there, or anywhere even near a situation and life
remotely akin to Mr. Withers', I make no judgement.

The whole truth is not likely to be known.

Best,

Joe

Joseph A. Rosen
Photographer
326 W. 22nd St. #3R
New York, NY 10011
tel: 212-691-0607
fax: 212-255-2717
www.josepharosen.com
jarosenphoto@nyc.rr.com



On Sep 14, 2010, at 2:08 AM, Jef Jaisun wrote:

> Color me completely speechless.
>
> http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/
> 2012889616_spyphotog14.html
>
> Civil-rights photographer was spy for FBI, files show
>
> An unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C.
> Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil-
> rights era: He was a paid FBI informant.
>
> On Sunday, The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis published the
> results of a two-year investigation that showed Withers, who died
> in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two FBI agents in
> the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil-rights movement. It was an
> astonishing revelation about a former police officer nicknamed the
> "Original Civil Rights Photographer," famous in part for the trust
> he had engendered among high-ranking civil-rights leaders,
> including King.
>
> "It is an amazing betrayal," said Athan Theoharis, a historian at
> Marquette University who has written books about the FBI. "It
> really speaks to the degree that the FBI was able to engage
> individuals within the civil-rights movement. This man was so well
> trusted."
>
> From at least 1968 to 1970, Withers, who was black, provided
> photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to
> Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, two FBI agents in the bureau's
> Memphis domestic surveillance program, according to numerous
> reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by
> the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on
> its website.
>
> A clerical error appears to have allowed for Withers' identity to
> be divulged: In most cases in the reports, references to Withers
> and his informant number, ME 338-R, have been blacked out. But in
> several locations, the FBI appears to have forgotten to hide them.
> The FBI said Monday that it was not clear what had caused the lapse
> in privacy and was looking into the incident.
>
> Civil-rights leaders have responded to the revelation with a
> mixture of dismay, sadness and disbelief. "If this is true, then
> Ernie abused our friendship," said the Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., a
> retired minister who organized civil-rights rallies throughout the
> South in the 1960s.
>
> Others were more forgiving. "It's not surprising," said Andrew
> Young, a civil-rights organizer who later became mayor of Atlanta.
> "We knew that everything we did was bugged, although we didn't
> suspect Withers individually."
>
> Many details of Withers' relationship with the FBI remain unknown.
> The bureau keeps files on all informants but has declined repeated
> requests to release Withers', which would presumably explain how
> much he was paid by the FBI, how he was recruited and how long he
> served as an informant.
>
> At the time of his death, Withers had the largest catalog of any
> individual photographer covering the civil-rights movement in the
> South, said Tony Decaneas, the owner of the Panopticon Gallery in
> Boston, the exclusive agent for Withers. His photographs have been
> collected in four books, and his family was planning to open a
> museum and name it after him.
>
> His work shows remarkable intimacy with and access to top civil-
> rights leaders. Friends used to say he had a knack for being in the
> right place at the right time. But while he was growing close to
> top civil-rights leaders, Withers was also meeting regularly with
> the FBI agents, disclosing details about plans for marches and
> political beliefs of the leaders, even personal information like
> the leaders' car-tag numbers.
>
> David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written
> biographies of King, said many civil-rights workers gave
> confidential interviews to the FBI and CIA, and were automatically
> classified as "informants." The difference, Garrow said, is the
> evidence that Withers was being paid.
>
> Although Withers' motivation is not known, Garrow said informants
> were rarely motivated by the financial compensation, which "wasn't
> enough money to live on." But Marc Perrusquia, who wrote the
> article for The Commercial Appeal, noted that Withers had eight
> children and might have struggled to support them.
>
> One daughter of Withers, Rosalind Withers, told local news
> organizations that she did not find the report conclusive.
>
> "This is the first time I've heard of this in my life," Withers
> told The Commercial Appeal. "My father's not here to defend
> himself. That is a very, very strong, strong accusation."
>
> Other children of Withers did not respond to requests for comment.
>


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