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Pioneering Photographer Ernest Withers Dies

We remember Ernest Withers, a photographer who spent more than 60 years documenting history from the blues music of Beale Street to the Civil Rights Movement. He died at age 85.


And now, we'll look back at a pioneering African-American journalist.

Ernest C. Withers died last week at the age of 89.

Imagine being a black men covering the early days of the civil rights movement, not just with the less conspicuous pen and pad but with a camera. That's exactly what Withers did. He took great risks to capture some of the iconic moments of the movement.

Withers photographed the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956. He also captured the moment when Dr. Martin Luther King boarded the bus along with the Reverend Ralph Abernathy. He was there for the funerals of both Dr. King and civil rights activist Medgar Evers. When striking sanitation workers in Memphis held up signs reading I am a man, he was there. He also covered the trial of Emmett Till and the long walk of the Little Rock Nine towards school desegregation in Arkansas.

Withers captured the lives of black America's rich and famous as well. He took publicity shots of the heroes of the Negro Baseball League, portraits of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and a young Willie Mays. His photos of jazz and blues legends shaking up Memphis' legendary Beale Street are both brash and tender. He shows a young James Brown shaking with passion on his knees, and a solemn shot of Aretha Franklin and her father, a preacher, just three days after the assassination of Dr. King.

The National Association of Black Journalists memorialized Withers. The organization's vice president for print, Ernie Suggs, wrote, all photographers, those working in black press or the mainstream media owe a great amount of debt to Mr. Withers for all he accomplished and sacrificed. He was and will always be one of the giants in this industry. And for that, we are forever grateful.

To see some of Ernest Withers' most iconic photos, check out our Web site,

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