Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Pictures Don't Lie" Shows the Many Layers of Ernest Withers

Pictures Don't Lie airs Sunday 2/20 at 8-9 p.m. ET on CNN.

"The story, when it emerged last September, was a shocker: Ernest Withers, one of the most iconic and important photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, a man who intimately documented countless historic events, was also an informant for the FBI, passing on information about everyone from local Memphis gangs to Martin Luther King.

Withers' family, O'Brien said, was 'stunned and hurt' when the news emerged. They had to contend not only with what the revelations meant for Withers' legacy as an icon of the Civil Rights movement, but also with what they meant for his relationship with them.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien knew Withers the way everyone else did: through his pictures. Withers’ snapshots of Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse and striking Memphis sanitation workers holding signs that say “I Am A Man” are two of the most famous photographs of the Civil Rights era. He became the premiere black photographer of the Civil Rights Movement in the South during the 1950s and 1960s, and gained unparalleled access to the leading figures of the day. (One of his most famous pictures is a rare snapshot of Martin Luther King lying in his bed and reading a newspaper.) The news that Withers had had a double life from 1968 to 1970 as an FBI informant was as stunning to O'Brien as anyone else, and led her to make the latest documentary in her “In America” series.


Pictures Don’t Lie focuses on Ernest Withers: his life, his work for the FBI, the effect that the revelations about him have had, and, finally, the photographs that made him famous.

O’Brien said that the “many layers” of the story were what drew her to it: a man whose photographs were undeniably valuable—including some, such as his picture of Emmett Till’s body, which were nearly earth-shaking—and who was deeply entrenched in his community was also watching that community and telling the FBI what he had seen. For O’Brien, the story allowed her to examine the Civil Rights era from many different angles—the relationship between law enforcement and the black community, the black journalism of the period, and the reaction of some of the movement’s leading luminaries to the startling news of Withers’ FBI ties.


excerpted from : Soledad O'Brien's 'Pictures Don't Lie' Looks At Civil Rights Photographer Ernest Withers' FBI Ties
Post a Comment