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Released documents detail FBI informant's role PDF Print E-mail
Written by Associated Press   
Tuesday, 02 April 2013

ernest_c._withers_web_fc.jpgMEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Documents newly released by the FBI shed light on how a freelance news photographer passed photos and information about the civil rights movement to the agency. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/10m1MKn) obtained FBI records through a lawsuit settlement and reported Ernest Withers sometimes photographed prominent people involved in the movement in what a historian calls a "vacuum cleaner approach'' by the FBI.

In a black and white photo taken by Withers, James Bevel is seen flashing a wide smile for the camera. Bevel was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s director of "direct action,'' and he was in Memphis on that March 1968 day to organize a massive demonstration.

A short time later, the photo was in an FBI file, along with agent William H. Lawrence's debriefing of Withers about the speech Bevel gave at LeMoyne-Owen College.

Lawrence's notes describe a ``most virulent black power talk'' by Bevel.

The FBI probe into the Southern Christian Leadership Conference began well before King's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and continued for a year afterward.

Among photos Withers supplied to the FBI as a paid informant were a candid snapshot of King's top aide, Andrew Young, and one of SCLC field organizer James Orange, standing stunned in the parking lot of the Lorraine Motel shortly after King was fatally shot on a balcony. Another shows Coretta Scott King, speaking at a news conference after the assassination of her husband.

The FBI said Withers was authorized to received $20,088 for his work as a "racial informant.''

Despite the revelations about Withers, many people who were in the rights movement harbor no resentment. They blame the FBI.

Withers gave agents photos of Memphis-based U.S. Civil Rights Commission field representative Bobby Doctor holding hands with a young SCLC volunteer. The seeming implication was that Doctor and the volunteer might be having an affair.

Audrey Dandridge, now 74, was the young volunteer. Doctor is referred to in the report as "an admitted agnostic non-believer in Christ.''

"Many black people, especially movement people, are not outraged,'' Dandridge said. "He (Withers) did what he had to do.''

The Rev. Harold Middlebrook grew up in Memphis and knew Withers since high school.

"The fact that he was able to tell the story (of the movement) and make the FBI pay him to tell the story of what was going on was beneficial to us,'' said Middlebrook, 70. "I admire him for being a pretty smart fellow.''

Although Withers did little direct informing on King, his reports to the agency on others are indicative of what historian Athan Theoharis called a "vacuum cleaner approach'' to FBI surveillance, collecting everything for possible later use.

"It seems to me these actions are really questionable. They step over the line,'' said Theoharis, author of "Spying on Americans: Political Surveillance from Hoover to the Huston Plan.'' "Why is Withers taking pictures of all these prominent people and others?''

Historian Kenneth O'Reilly said the FBI had cause to monitor potential disorder using informants like Withers during the volatile 1960s, but he believed the agency went to excessive lengths.

"The threat I think was grossly overestimated,'' said O'Reilly, author of ``Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972.''

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written by lois freeh, April 03, 2013

Court Decision: U.S. “Government Agencies” Found Guilty in Martin Luther King’s Assassination
Circuit Court of Shelby County, Tennessee Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis, December 1999
By Carl Herman
Global Research, January 22, 2013
Washington's Blog 21 January 2013

Coretta Scott King: “We have done what we can to reveal the truth, and we now urge you as members of the media, and we call upon elected officials, and other persons of influence to do what they can to share the revelation of this case to the widest possible audience.” – King Family Press Conference, Dec. 9, 1999.

From the King Center on the family’s civil trial that found the US government guilty in Martin’s assassination:

After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict, saying ,

“There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 02 April 2013 )
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