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Famous Civil Rights Photographer Reportedly Was FBI Mole

Ernest Withers

Civil rights photojournalist and "photo historian" Ernest C. Withers speaks during a presentation of images from his 70-year career, at a special award ceremony at Parsons School of Design in New York, Monday, Feb. 14, 2005. (AP)

A famous civil rights photographer who covered everything from the Emmett Till murder to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly was also an informant who spied on the civil rights movement for the FBI.

Numerous FBI reports portray Ernest Withers -- a veteran freelancer for America's black press known as "the original civil rights photographer" -- as a prolific informant who, from at least 1968 until 1970, used his access to civil rights events and meetings to pass on tips, photographs and other information to the FBI on the civil rights and anti-war movements in Memphis, the Commercial Appeal reported.

The reports show Withers often tipped off the FBI to strike plans, handed over license plate numbers and photos of movement supporters, and monitoring political candidates, the Memphis paper reported.

Withers died in 2007 at the age of 85. It's unclear what impact the information will have on his legacy.

His son, Rome Withers, told the Commercial Appeal he'd never heard anything about their late father being an informant, but said even if it is true it didn’t detract from the merits of his work and the sacrifices he made for the civil rights movement.

"I always liked him because he was a good photographer. And he was always (around)," he told the newspaper. The movement was transparent and didn't have anything to hide anyway, he added.

Click here for more on this story from the Commercial Appeal.

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