Only Ernest Withers, a key figure in the civil rights movement, could have delivered such iconic photographs—and the kind of information the FBI wanted...
Renowned photographer Ernest Withers captured some of the most stunning moments of the civil rights era—from the age-defining snapshot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., riding one of the first integrated buses in Montegomery, to the haunting photo of Emmett Till’s great-uncle pointing an accusing finger at his nephew’s killers. He was trusted and beloved by King’s inner circle, and had a front row seat to history . . . but few people know that Withers was also an informant for the FBI.
Memphis journalist Marc Perrusquia broke the story of Withers’s secret life after a long investigation culminating in a landmark lawsuit against the government to release hundreds of once-classified FBI documents. Those files confirmed that, from 1958 to 1976, Withers helped the Bureau monitor pillars of the movement including Dr. Martin Luther King and others, as well as dozens of civil rights foot soldiers.
Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of King’s assasination, A Spy in Canaan explores the life, complex motivations, and legacy of this fascinating figure Ernest Withers, as well as the dark shadow that era’s culture of surveillance has cast on our own time.