This article was originally published on BLAC Detroit.

The most holistic collection of Dr. Ernest Withers’ archive published to date, containing images from his civil rights, music, sports, and lifestyle collections, the text of this work delves much deeper than the average photograph book into the history behind the images. Withers Collection Museum & Gallery is a unique and amazing place to explore the cultural artifacts from all over the world.

“My father was an amazing man and photojournalist who we estimated that his body of work to be at least 1.8 million impressions strong,” says Rosalind Withers, daugther and conservatory of his estate and Founder of the Withers Collections Museum and Gallery. “Everyone knows my fathers work from the civil right era and everyone knows my dads work from the music because he was the official Stax Records photographer for two decades; but this perspective if a first. We have quite a bit of never-seen-before images and they are absolutely breathtaking.”

Rosalind Withers, Founder of the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery in Memphis, TN

This collection consists of artifacts from all parts of the globe, ranging from paintings, sculptures, pottery, and more. With a wide variety of pieces to choose from, visitors will undoubtedly be able to find something that speaks to them and captures their imagination. The museum & gallery also provides educational resources for those interested in learning more about the different cultures represented in the collection. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or just looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, Withers Collection Museum & Gallery is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

“All of this is history and our mission is to make sure this history is shared,” says Withers. “It’s not just words on a page, it is vividly for people to retain it in such a way that it’s etched in their minds and hopefully it becomes a penetration of touch of the heart.”

Rosalind Withers, Founder of Withers Collection Museum & Gallery
Dr. Ernest Withers, Sr. from The Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Who is Ernest Withers?

Best known for one moment in time, photographer Ernest Withers was sitting in a Sumner, Mississippi, courtroom in September 1955 when Emmett Till’s uncle, Moses Wright, took the stand to testify against the two white men who had come to his house one night and taken away his 14-year-old nephew. As Wright defied an entire history that had kept black Americans “in their place” by pointing his index finger and identifying one of his nephew’s murderers, Withers defied the judge’s orders and snapped one of the first iconic images of the civil rights era.


The Withers Legacy

In the years that followed the Till trial, Withers photographed a young Elvis Presley, a fellow lover of the Memphis nightclub scene, as he mingled with black artists at a local club in the early days of integration. Withers met Mississippi activist Medgar Evers during the Till trial; eight years later, when Evers himself was murdered, Withers photographed his funeral. Police beat him with nightsticks, arrested him, and exposed his film to destroy his pictures. Undeterred, Withers traveled the South covering school integrations, marches, and voter registration drives. In Memphis, he photographed anti-war priests, the Nation of Islam, and a new generation of student activists calling no longer for freedom but for Black Power.

Withers first photographed Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956, as King boarded one of the first integrated buses, and then one last time more than a decade later, as the reverend locked arms with fellow marchers at a tense Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, just a week before he was assassinated in the same city. On the day of King’s last march, Withers also took his best-known photograph — of hundreds of strikers holding signs bearing the words “I Am a Man.” 

Facebook Comments