The Civil Rights Movement was a momentous period in the history of the United States. Iconic photos of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Emmett Till Trial, and many other important events that occurred during the movement cover pages of history textbooks and articles honoring their work in changing the country.
But, who took these famous photos? The photographer was a man named Ernest Withers who learned how to take photos during his time serving the army in World War II. While many of Withers’ photos are widely circulated and well known for their effectiveness in rallying people to join the Civil Rights Movement, there is an aspect of his life that has been less popularized over the years. Marc Perrusquia, author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, explains that Withers was recruited during this time to be a spy for the FBI. Perrusquia states that he was an appealing recruit for the FBI due to his outgoing personality, photography skills, involvement in the community, and time spent in the military and the police force. Despite working in favor of the Civil Rights Movement, Withers helped the FBI to identify and keep track of a number of individuals that they believed were being influenced by Communist beliefs, some of which were very involved with the movement. While his work for President Hoover and the FBI who thought that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movements were dangerous can be seen as controversial in accordance with his other work, Perrusquia explains that he does not believe that Withers’ work for the Civil Rights Movement should be viewed as any less important.
In order to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Ernest Withers involvement, listen to author Marc Perrusquia as he joins us on this week’s show. For more information, purchase a copy of his book A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement.
- Marc Perrusquia, author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement