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Knights o’ the Post…

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I read in a recent issue of the Memphis Commercial Appeal that one of the most iconic of movement photographers, Ernest C. Withers, was apparently a closely-supervised, paid informant for the FBI: #ME-338-R.  (The R is for Race.)

The news media has so far gathered FOIA files of his informant status for the years 1968 thru 1970.  While thousands of pages have been revealed, the FBI refuses to release other documents.

As far as the civil rights and black movement was concerned, Withers and his camera were everywhere.  Dying back in 2007 at 85, he had covered everything from the old Negro League baseball and the Memphis Blues scene, to the Emmett Till case (1955), Little Rock high school integration (1957), Ole Miss and James Meredith in ’62, up thru the last hours of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in ’68.  Withers learned his craft in the Army during World War II.

But even as he was following King around, snapping photos on that final day in Memphis, Withers was finding time to meet with his FBI handlers, reporting King’s discussions with black militants and others.

Andrew Young, former King aide, mayor of Atlanta, and Ambassador to the United Nations, commented in the article that he was not bothered by the fact that Withers was an FBI informant.  Young added disingenuously that the movement was transparent and had nothing to hide.

This shows a remarkable lack of political and social consciousness on Young’s behalf.  It wasn’t the truth that made the FBI so treacherous, quite the opposite:  What they did with the truth…

The story of COINTELPRO is well documented.  Boss Hoover’s megalomania, and decades of sexual hypocrisy and blackmail are well known.  I need not take up such space here.

Having myself spent more than 22 years in the American prison systems, I’ve certainly met my share of snitches and other actors of perverse character.  When I served time on a chain-gang in the South in the mid-’60s, snitching was virtually unheard of.

   I would not have done the bulk of this time at all were it not for these Knights o’ the Post:  False witnesses who themselves were caught in illicit behaviors.  I’ve heard judges refer to them as “remorseful”; remorseful that they were caught, I can assure you.  Facing a sentence of natural life (which they tried to put on me), they “cooperated” in the testimony of others for their own “get out of jail free card” as it suited the police and prosecutors. 

   I can understand the court accepting their testimony (absent any evidence, of course), it’s a psychological projection of their own lack of character (it’s what they would do in the same circumstance).

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not quite as sanguine about Withers’ betrayals as some others.  For many, it’s perceived as a direct betrayal of the family.

Given the need for collective social consciousness in the face of ever-increasing criminalization and corruption of our communities by the impact of unconscionable profiteering, we need to redraw some lessons and priorities in this respect.

               Dr. Publico

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