The Civil Rights Movement and Memphis Music Captured Through the Lens of Ernest Withers

The cozy Withers Collection Museum & Gallery, located in Wither’s former studio space, offers visitors a snapshot into six decades of American history captured through the lens of renowned photographer Dr. Ernest C. Withers. You may not recognize the name off hand, but you’ve undoubtedly seen his work displayed at the Library of Congress and incorporated into the permanent collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  

Trained at the Army School of Photography, Withers captured both the good and bad side of segregation in the South. In 1955, his images of Emmett Till and the murder trial that followed brought much attention and helped document the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Withers traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., photographed the Little Rock Nine, the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1956 and the sanitation workers strike in Memphis. Not many know that Withers deeply loved music and baseball. Through the gallery you’ll see a series of Negro League Baseball portraits, photos from the soul and R&B music era in Memphis and of course, Beale Street legend BB King. 

Today, his daughter, Rosalind manages and procures one of the largest photo collections amassed by a single individual (it is estimated that Ernest took over 1 million photos in his 60 years). She is responsible for daily operations of the Withers photographic Art Museum and Gallery.

The Withers Collection Museum & Gallery is located at 333 Beale Street next to the Old Daisy Theater and near 4th Street. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday starting at 4 p.m. Daytime tours are available for larger groups by reservation and admission is $10 for adults and $7 for children. Plan to spend approximately 1 hour to 90 minutes exploring the photographer’s life and images on display. 

For more information about the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery, see their official website or watch the video below.