Ernest Withers was a key person in the Civil Rights Movement, mainly as a result of his self-produced photographic pamphlet of the Emmett Till trial. His remarkable document encouraged prominent African Americans to become involved.
—from a testimonial by Panopticon Gallery, which holds many of his photos
He is an inspiration to me, for many reasons, among them his courage in producing the document written about above. For those who may not know or remember, Emmett Till was a young black boy from Chicago (my home town and nearly my home neighborhood, exactly my age) murdered in the south. His mother insisted on an open casket funeral where all could view her son’s mangled face. Withers photographed the funeral, the face, the grieving family, intimately, and other elements of the story, including the trial which exonerated the alleged murders, despite their confession to a reporter. His pamphlet, self produced, a prescient decision as was that of Mrs Till who encouraged the photography and the pamphlet, helped ignite the civil rights movement in the US in 1955.
The inspiration is 1. to publicize atrocity, 2. use art (if that’s the craft at hand) to do it, 3. risk approbation (at being too honest, too grisly, too shocking), 4. aim for the highest: justice and peace for all, the light within emergent.
May Withers’ life be a continuing guide (and goad) to us all,
Thank you Ernest,