by Chris Davis
One of the great joys of living in Midtown Memphis in the days before digital photography was being able to walk into the Walgreen's on Union Avenue on any given day and have a conversation with noted Civil Rights photographer Ernest C. Withers who, prior to his death in 2007, could often be found there waiting for his latest roll of film to be developed. He was a common, down-to-Earth man with an uncommon talent for documenting the extraordinary people and events that shaped Memphis in the last half of the 20th century. Soon those who never had the chance to talk to the man while waiting to pay for cough drops and a bag of Cheetos will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the Mid-South's most important artists and documentarians.
An agreement has been struck between Beale Street's Performa Real Estate. and the Ernest C. Withers Trust to create museum to preserve and promote Withers' photographic legacy.
Although his pictures from Memphis' sanitation worker's strike rank among the most defining, iconic images in American history, it's particularly fitting that Withers should be honored on Beale Street. His shots of the nightlife on Memphis' most famous byway captured a less violent collision of black and white cultures, and function as a casual and candid history of Memphis blues, soul and early rock and roll.
The 7000 square foot museum will be housed at 333 Beale and will encompass Withers' actual studio space.