Pictures Tell The Story


Ernest C. Withers has always been a photographer on the inside. For more than seventy-five years, Withers has lived and worked in Memphis, Tennessee, where he has used his camera to capture the people, events, and the changes surrounding him. As an African American man, he was poised to witness and record the struggle for civil rights that enveloped the Memphis community. His stunning black and white images bear witness to the movement's slow but steady progress, from the grisly murder of young Emmett Till to the integration of Little Rock High School. Withers was there for the high points such as the first desegregated bus ride, as well as the lowest point marked by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel.


His coverage of these news worthy events for the press, both local and national, allowed Withers and his wife Dorothy to raise and educate seven children. Too often he had to accept ready money for his pictures in lieu of proper credit upon their publication; the result - it could be said that his photographs are better known than his name.


Although his studio address changed frequently, Withers was often based on Beale Street, the very heart of the Memphis music scene, and birthplace of the Blues. Over several decades he photographed the likes of B. B. King, Isaac Hayes, Arethra Franklin, and Elvis Presley. Withers immortalized them in the heat of a driving performance, mugging for his camera, and at quieter moments backstage. He was part of the scene, friend to the musicians, and his images - creative and documentary - reflect this intimacy and his appreciation for the music's artistry and soul.


As a freelance photographer, Withers often attended Negro League Baseball games where, as with the Beale Street music scene, Withers was a man on the inside. He knew the players, capturing them in action or posed with family and fans on the field.


This is the first publication to survey the more than 50 year career of Ernest Withers. The recipient of numerous awards, Withers has received two honorary doctorate degrees and was inducted into the Black Press Hall of Fame in 1998.

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Withers Collection

Museum & Gallery

333 Beale Street

Memphis, TN 38103

(901) 523-2344

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