Earlier this afternoon I had the great fortune to spend time in the Ernest C. Withers Museum, on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.
The museum houses a smallportion of the legendary Ernest C. Withers collection of photographs that chronicle the history of Negro League Baseball, The Civil Rights Movement, and the visual history of music in Memphis – beginning with a very young B.B.King, Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, and so on.
Withers was an African American photographer who immersed himself into the tumultuous southern culture that came into prominence, beginning in the mid 50’s.
His photographic archive, as displayed on the museum walls, chronicles the Civil Rights Movement’s evolution. Intimate behind the scenes images of planning session, and even Dr. King lounging on his bed at the Lorraine Motel.
Withers photographs of the legendary musicians of Blues and Rock n’ Roll, again, in many images, show the behind the scenes. Other images show the performers in the peak of their launch into stardom.
Much controversy has arisen around the life of Withers – primarily within the media itself, and, in many cases, has seemed to overshadow the true importance of his work.
After spending more than an hour viewing, and re-viewing, the images displayed on the walls, I went to lunch with Withers daughter, Roz. She talked of the plans for the museum’s expansion, and talked more intimately of her father. She allowed me to watch a video interview that was taped in his later years.
In that video I saw a man of great spirit – a man that I would have enjoyed sitting across the table from in conversation.
Over the next several months I will be following the progress of the Withers Museum, and will post updates through this blog. In the meantime, if you find yourself in Memphis, make arrangements to spend time viewing the exhibition.
The museum is located at 333 Beale Street, and the phone number, to arrange a viewing, is (561) 779-4525. The museum’s website is http://thewitherscollection.com/
- David Robert Farmerie