Breaking the Color Line: Ernest C. Withers' Photos of Segregation in Tennessee

Ernest C. Withers was an American photographer who documented the Civil Rights Movement and segregation in Tennessee from the 1940s to the 1960s. His photographs provide a visual record of a time when racial segregation was the norm in the American South, and the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum.

Withers’ photographs capture the everyday experiences of African Americans living in Tennessee during this period. He documented events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville, and the lives of everyday people in their homes and communities. His work provides a unique perspective on segregation and its effects on the African American community in Tennessee.

One of the most striking aspects of Withers’ photographs is their intimacy. He captured candid moments and personal stories, bringing the reality of segregation to life in a way that was both powerful and poignant. His photographs give the African American community a voice and shed light on their struggles and experiences during this time.

In addition to his photographs, Withers also had a close relationship with key figures in the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. He used his access to these leaders to capture images that would have otherwise been inaccessible, providing a comprehensive visual record of the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee.

#1 Sanitation workers assemble in front of Clayborn Temple for a solidarity march, Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.

#4 William Edwin Jones pushes daughter Renee Andrewnetta Jones (8 months old) during protest, Main Street, Memphis, Tennessee, 1950s.

#6 Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Revue, on the midway at the Cottonmaker’s Jubilee in the Beale Street Auditorium Park, early 1950’s.

#8 BB King on stage at the Hippodrome, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, with Bill Harvey, 1950.

#10 Junienne Briscoe, 16 years old, joined the picket lines along Main Street, no date.

#11 An assembly at Booker T Washington high school, no date.

#13 Aretha Franklin SCLC convention, Club Paradise, Memphis, Tennessee.

#14 James Brown, Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, Tennessee.

#15 Bobby “Blue” Bland, Club Handy, Memphis, Tennessee, late 1950s.

#17 Michael Willis, Harry Williams and Dwania Kyles sit in the back of a car during the first day of Memphis school integration, 1961.

#18 Tina Turner, Ike and Tina Revue, Club Paradise, 1962.

#19 Student volunteer working to register voters, 1964-65.

#20 Martin Luther King Jr waiting to be introduced at the Alabama Capitol after leading the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, 1965.

#21 I Am a Man sanitation workers strike, Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.

#22 Memorial March after assassination of MLK, Main St Memphis, 1968.

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Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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