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Black History Month: Memphis photographer shares historical photos in new book

Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 10:46 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2022 at 7:57 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With his catchphrase, “Tell the Lord Thank you!,” Mark Stansbury has spent the past 63 years as a radio announcer at WDIA., the first radio station in the country with programming targeting an African-American audience.

While most people know his voice, you may not know about his other passion that’s given him a front-row seat to Memphis history.

Just about everywhere Stansbury goes, he always has his camera nearby. It’s something he learned from his mentor, renowned civil rights photographer Ernest Withers.

Stansbury says you never know when you might run into the perfect shot. He’s had quite a few in his career, from Isaac Hayes holding up his Oscar to Harold Ford Sr. casting his ballot during his historic run for a seat in the U.S. House.

“I was volunteering, working on Harold’s campaign and I wanted to record that because I knew that would be history,” said Stansbury.

To soul singer Al Green dancing the night away with comedian Phyllis Diller at the since torn down and forgotten Airport Hilton Hotel to the moments we’ll never forget.

About two weeks before Dr. Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop speech, Stansbury snapped a picture before the reverend spoke at Mason Temple Church in support of striking sanitation workers.

Stansbury also photographed the funeral of Medgar Evers in 1963, a Mississippi NAACP civil rights activist who was shot and killed in front of his home.

Stansbury says his photo of Evers’ widow wiping away their son’s tear was chosen as Jet Magazine’s photo of the week.

“Back in the day, a lot of newspapers, there weren’t a lot, there were only two in Memphis, you found very few African Americans in those photographs,” said Stansbury.

This year, Stansbury released his second book, “Through the Lens of Mark Stansbury,” where you’ll find some Memphis gems, like Memphis legend Rufus Thomas and a young Michael Jackson.

“This is Rufus coming into the dressing room and he was excited to see Michael and Michael was happy to see him. I think it was the first time he had met Rufus,” recalled Stansbury.

Stansbury caught a lot of musical moments at the Mid-south Coliseum, like the day the Beatles, comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley, and James Brown came to town.

“And James says, oooohhh, that’s the best picture that’s ever been taken of me. I remember that. Wow, it is a great photo,” said Stansbury.

This 79-year-old says he doesn’t shoot as often as he used to, but he’s got a box full of memories from when he did.

If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, you can reach Stansbury at mstnsbry@gmail.com.

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