Revolution in Black and White: Photographs of the Civil Rights Era by Ernest Withers
DescriptionErnest C. Withers was one of the most prominent African-American photographers of the civil rights era. During the course of his work, he took thousands photographs that document the civil rights movement--from the Emmett Till trial in 1955 to the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.
What set his work apart was that he goes beyond the political struggles to explain the civil rights movement that changed the country. Withers was primarily a local photographer, working as a freelancer for the Memphis World and Tri-State Defender starting in 1948. His photographs of the everyday world--bridge clubs, funerals, people at work and play, and street life--create a stunning record of what it was like to live in Memphis and the Mid-South. He was also a noted baseball photographer, documenting Negro League baseball in Memphis, and a noted music photographer, taking thousands of photographs of jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll and R&B performers.
This book combines this work for the first time and uses first-hand accounts of people who lived in the South to explain these transformative years. The photographs, taken as bare-bones journalism, rises to the level of fine art decades later.
They are also important examples of photojournalism, documenting decades of struggle in Memphis and the Mid-South. They serve as an important missing link in the civil rights narrative.
In 2010, three years after his death, the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper published a series of articles that showed that Withers was a paid informant of the FBI. This book goes beyond the headlines to show how Withers created an essential record for all of us to better understand life in the South during this crucial era.
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About the Author
Richard Cahan and Michael Williams are noted photo historians. They have teamed up to produce more than twelve books. Most are based on long-lost archives or photographic collections. Called "the eloquent archival sleuthing duo" by Booklist magazine's Donna Seaman, they have written award-winning books about photography, art, and history, including two on Vivian Maier, the reclusive nanny whose discovered photographic work has become a worldwide sensation.
"Without Memphis photographer Ernest C. Withers (1922-2007), our understanding of the civil-rights movement would be diminished, and we would lack the insights he delivered into the lives of middle-class African Americans at that time in that city of fierce segregation, courageous protest, and world-altering music. In the first comprehensive portrait...ardent photo restorers Cahan and Williams tell Withers' full story and present a galvanizing collection of his vital work, including many never-before-published images...the music scene, the Emmet Till trial, sit-ins, and marches, taking candid portraits of B. B. King, Ruth Brown, Martin Luther King Jr., and Andrew Young. Tough and determined, Withers struggled to support his large family, and after his death it was revealed that he was a paid informant for the FBI, a seeming contradiction Cahan and Williams justly illuminate...Withers' photographs of a watershed time and place are intimate, affirming, and invaluable."
- Booklist, Starred Review