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Photojournalist Ernest C. Withers honored with new exhibit at Collierville library

Published: Feb. 26, 2022 at 12:15 AM CST
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COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - The world-renown photojournalist, Ernest C. Withers, is being honored with an exhibit this Black History Month.

Saturday, people will be able to look at iconic photos he took depicting pivotal civil rights movements in the Mid-South.

From the Memphis music scene to the Civil Rights Movement, Withers was always there, ready to capture a picture that tells a story. Right beside him was his son, Andrew “Rome” Withers.

“I was the person, you know, every time he shot a picture, he would pop a bulb out, I would be the one to go get the bulb and make sure there wasn’t any trash,” said Andrew Withers.

Withers taught his eight children the ropes of photography and how to run a business all while allowing them to be a part of history. Withers brought his kids along the day he took the famous “I Am Man” photo during the Sanitation Workers strike on March 28, 1968

“We left there and we went back to our studio on Beale Street. We had to go ahead and close the curtains because the police and the riots were still going on. We developed the picture the day of the I Am A Man photo, Andrew Withers recalled.

Withers’ pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights protests were printed in newspapers and magazines across the country. They’ve been praised by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and displayed at the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee.

This Saturday, the legendary images are being shown in an exhibit at the Lucius E. and Elsie Caldwell Burch Branch Library in Collierville.

It’s everybody’s history,” said Linda Brown, reference associate at the library.

Brown has known the Withers’ for years. She also knows the stories these images tell from firsthand experience.

“I know it, I felt it. I think the people in Memphis were so used to it, but the people in Collierville, some of the people never experienced what we experienced. So, I thought it would be the perfect place to bring the exhibit,” said Brown.

This year, Withers would have turned 100 years old. Next year would have been his wife, Dorothy’s, 100th as well.

Behind every good man, there’s a woman,” Andrew Withers said.

He hopes this exhibit helps to keep their legacy alive.

“We’re making history now by showing history. We hope that there’s a group of young people that can come in and be inspired,” he said.

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