Withers Documentary Draws a Crowd

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An overflow crowd came to see a sneak preview Thursday night of CNN's upcoming documentary on Ernest Withers, "Pictures Don't Lie."

The upstairs viewing room at the National Civil Rights Museum was full so latecomers watched the 30-minute segment in the downstairs auditorium. The total crowd was well over 100 people. The documentary will debut on Sunday, February 20th, on CNN. It is narrated by Soledad O'Brien.

Only part of the documentary was shown Thursday so it is hard to review it. But I can say that it doesn't seem to pull any punches. There are gruesome pictures of the murdered Emmitt Till. And Withers' role as an FBI informant, which was reported last year by The Commercial Appeal, is addressed head on. Dick Gregory says that calling Withers a Judas to the civil rights movement might be unfair to Judas.

King biographer David Garrow tells O’Brien, “There is no doubt whatsoever, the available documentary evidence, which includes both Mr. Withers’ name and his informant coding number — that matches up with dozens of FBI documents — nails it, 100 percent — case closed.”

The family of Withers disagrees. They are interviewed in the documentary, but that section was not part of the sneak preview. The view that Withers got a bad rap has gained traction. After the viewing, Beverly Robertson, executive director of the National Civil Rights Museum, said Withers may or may not have been an FBI informant. Also speaking Thursday was Dr. Suhkara Yahweh, formerly known as "Sweet Willie Wine," a member of the Invaders in 1968.

One thing the documentary makes clear is that Withers was an extremely hard-working photographer who chronicled the civil rights movement like no one else. Don't miss it.

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