Ernest C. Withers (1922-2007), photographer, worked sixty years documenting the civil rights movement in America, the Memphis blues scene, the Negro Baseball League, black folklore, and he traveled with Martin Luther King, Jr., during most of his public life, garnering photographs that are today the hallmark of that period. No one else had quite the touch nor knew how to instinctively position portraits — the sweat, the earth, the sound — between the very public street and the killing floor. His baseball photographs show faces rarely seen as he found them. When you hold his now scarce book of photographs gathering all these worlds, you're holding something. I found my copy in a dim-lit basement shop. In the dross there, it glowed.
Amongst the highlights and courage of the man now come allegations he worked as a paid informant for the FBI from 1968-1970. Who knows what that entailed? His family, and he had eight children, aren't buying the charges; others are affixing negative labels. This was a very complicated and hopeful, yet murderous time in American history (lots of snitches), and this is quite a versatile artist. He had a large family to support, plus he was known to give his photographs away to ministers who couldn't afford to pay. Look at the character of the man, but not at the expense of the brilliant work. These are photographs that lead the way.
Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, Matty Brescia, Jackie Robinson, youngster, Memphis 1953
Memphis Red Sox
Martin Luther King, Jr. Washington D.C.
When we listen to the gospel and rhythm & blues of Roebuck "Pops" Staples (1914-2000), we're hearing the soul of a man born on a Mississippi cotton plantation, was one of 14 kids, and who dropped out of school after the eighth grade. He'd go on to know and play with Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House — a killer line-up. Then there was his personal friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. By 1948 he formed The Staple Singers with his young children (Mavis, Yvonne, Pervis, Cleotha) singing in local churches; this spread all over the country, all over the world. Forever legendary on Stax Records. Pops Staples' peaceable yet resonant and shimmering recordings may be picked up as an influence for many current acts, including the stage sound of Bob Dylan. His youngest, Mavis, carries on the music and the grace.
paradise, ca. 1962
wdia goodwill revue
city auditorium, ca. 1960
ever cool B.B. King
Ernest C. Withers