The grief-stricken aides photographed by Withers on April 4, 1968,
had no clue, but the man they invited in that night was an FBI informant
— evidence of how far the agency went to spy on private citizens in
Memphis during one of the nation’s most volatile periods.
He laterdivulged details gleaned at King’s funeral in Atlanta,
reporting that two Southern Christian Leadership Conference staffers
blamed for an earlier Beale Street riot planned to return to Memphis “to
resume … support of sanitation strike’ — to stir up more trouble,
as the FBI saw it.
The April 10, 1968, report, whichidentifies Withers only by his confidential informant number —ME 338-R
— is among numerous reports reviewed by The Commercial Appeal that
reveal a covert, previously unknown side of the beloved photographer who
died in 2007 at age 85.
Those reports portray Withers as a prolific informant who, from at
least 1968 until 1970, passed on tips and photographs detailing an
insider’s view of politics, business and everyday life in Memphis’ black
As a foot soldier in J. Edgar Hoover’s domestic intelligence program,
Withers helped the FBI gain a front-row seat to the civil rights and
anti-war movements in Memphis.