Ernest C. Withers, Sr., an Unsung WWII Hero of Memphis

Updated on January 14, 2018
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Robert Odell Jr filmed and interviewed the descendants of three African American WWII heroes. All three men died on the same calendar day.

Ernest C. Withers was the world famous photographer who captured on film the unforgettable moment in history when Martin Luther King was fatally wounded.  Withers served in WWII and lived in Memphis.
Ernest C. Withers was the world famous photographer who captured on film the unforgettable moment in history when Martin Luther King was fatally wounded. Withers served in WWII and lived in Memphis. | Source

One of Three Unsung WWII Heroes From Memphis

Ernest C. Withers,Sr. is one of three "unsung" WWII heroes from Memphis, Tennessee whose lasting contribution to American History has been largely "unsung." Withers is linked to the other two WWII heroes by the calendar date of October 15.



Photographer and WWII Veteran

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. was the world famous photographer who captured many poignant and historical moments on film.  He served in WWII and lived in Memphis.
Ernest C. Withers, Sr. was the world famous photographer who captured many poignant and historical moments on film. He served in WWII and lived in Memphis. | Source

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. Is Linked to Luke J. Weathers, Jr. And PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr. By the Day of October 15

Ernest C. Withers, Sr., Luke J. Weathers, Jr., and PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr. are all WWII heroes whose lives are linked:

  • All died on the same day; October 15
  • All served in WWII
  • All made great contributions to United States history

The year of death differs for each man:

  • Rodgers died in 1993
  • Withers died in 2007
  • Weathers died in 2011

Ernest C. Withers, Sr.

Ernest C. Withers, Sr., is linked to two other World War II heroes from Memphis; Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr., and PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr., by the fact that they all died on the same calender day of October 15.

World Famous Photographer

With over one million documented images in his life-time, Ernest C. Withers, Sr., was the world famous photographer who captured on film the unforgettable moment in history when Martin Luther King, Jr., was fatally wounded. Withers served in WWII and lived in Memphis.

A WWII Photographer

As a WWII photographer, Ernest Withers was accustomed to being in situations were poignant still shots could be captured and preserved quickly.

Withers transferred the skills he learned as a photographer in WWII to civilian life by documenting historical images that included:

  • Memphis Music
  • Civil Rights and
  • The Negro Baseball League

A Granddaughter's Tribute

Ernest C. Withers; Just as Luke Weathers, and Sylvester Rodgers, Served in WWII

While growing up and seeing movies like The Yong Warriors and Red Ball Express, the children of Ernest C. Withers, Sr. had questions about the war. Withers made sure that his children met and spoke to Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr. and PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr. to learn first hand about the accomplishments that African Americans made during WWII.

As a result of growing up in the 1930's and 1940's Withers, Weathers, and Rodgers knew what it was like for Black Americans to have to struggle in order to get an education. African American heroes were rarely mentioned and positive, black role models were not portrayed in the media.

By introducing his children to Lt. Col Luke J. Weathers, Jr. and PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr., Ernest Withers was making sure that his children had the experience of interacting with positive African American role models as they received a true education in American History.

The Withers, Weathers and Rodgers Families Shared Other Things

  • Joshua "Billy" Withers' first grade teacher was Laverne Weathers (The wife of Lt. Col. Luke J. Weathers, Jr.)
  • Luke J. Weathers and Laverne Weathers both went to the same school as Ernest C. Withers (Manassas High School in Memphis, TN)
  • The grandfather of Joshua "Billy" Withers (Ernest Withers' son) and PFC Sylvester Rodgers, Sr. both had roots in Holly Springs, Mississippi

A Son's Tribute

Withers Captured Monumental Events

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. was instrumental in capturing monumental events in American history, such as the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's.
Ernest C. Withers, Sr. was instrumental in capturing monumental events in American history, such as the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's. | Source

Passion for Photography and History

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. received his passion for ancestral history from his father.

Through photography, Withers was able to pass on his passion for history and the camera to his children.

A Famous Photographer From Memphis

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. lived in Memphis, TN. As a photographer Withers documented:

  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The music scene on Beale Street
  • The Negro Baseball League
  • Black social life in Memphis
  • The Emmett Till trial
  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Medgar Evars Funeral
  • The Integration of Little Rock High School
  • The Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike
  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination and funeral

Beale Street Studio

As they came of age, Ernest Withers required his children to work in his photography studio which was located on Beale Street.

Ernest Withers taught his children the value of work by having them mop and clean the photography studio. As time went on the youths were allowed to photograph children's birthday parties. Later, to further develop their skills, the youngsters were given their first real photography assignment; filming casket layouts. Withers would comment, "...they ain't gonna move...".

Beale Street Photography Studio

Ernest C. Withers had a photography studio on Beale Street in Memphis, TN
Ernest C. Withers had a photography studio on Beale Street in Memphis, TN | Source

The Ernest Withers Museum and Gallery Is on Beale Street

A markerThe Withers Collection Museum & Gallery -
333 Beale Street, Memphis, TN 38103, USA
get directions

The Ernest Withers Collection Museum & Gallery is located on the east end of Beale St. in Memphis, TN.

The Withers Beale St. Studio Is a Museum

The Ernest Withers Museum is on the east end of historic Beale Street in Memphis, TN.
The Ernest Withers Museum is on the east end of historic Beale Street in Memphis, TN. | Source

The Ending of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Joshua "Billy" Withers and his siblings were witness to the ending of the Montgomery, AL Bus Boycott. Ernest C. Withers, Sr. photographed the event and he wanted his children to witness history as the boycott culminated.

L. Alex Wilson of the Memphis Tri-State Defender traveled with Ernest Withers and his family as they left at 6 am on a cold, rainy morning to capture the historic ending of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Capturing History

The ending of the Montgomery, AL Bus Boycott was one of the many historic events that Ernest Withers allowed his children to witness.
The ending of the Montgomery, AL Bus Boycott was one of the many historic events that Ernest Withers allowed his children to witness. | Source

Network of the Black Press

In the 1950's the black press was already onto stories that the white press was missing, ignoring, or belittling.

Ernest C. Withers, in conjunction with the black press, sought out and discovered evidence that uncovered the truth about black existence in the United States.

Passion for History and Photography

Memphis, a Crossroad for the Civil Rights Movement

Do you feel that Ernest C. Withers, Sr. played a key roll in the Civil Rights Movement by his photographic documentations?

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Over One Million Photos in His Life Time

Ernest C. Withers, Sr. documented the Civil Rights Movement and over one million photos of historic significance in his life time.
Ernest C. Withers, Sr. documented the Civil Rights Movement and over one million photos of historic significance in his life time. | Source

An Unforgettable Life

Withers' Voice in History

Withers used his lens, his pen, and his voice to change:

  • Jet
  • Ebony
  • People Magazine
  • The Tri-state Defender
  • Pittsburgh Courier
  • New York Times
  • Memphis World and
  • Many Motion Pictures Nationwide

His impact on world history will be felt for generations to come, as his voice continues to resound through the millions of high quality images he has fashioned for the world to ascertain.

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      Robert Odell Jr 13 months ago from Memphis, Tennessee

      Thank you lions44. The photographs of Ernest C. Withers, Sr. give an extraordinary view of the annals of U.S. History after WWII.

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      CJ Kelly 13 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Great job. Thx for the knowledge. Fascinating story. I had never seen his photo on the bus with King and Abernathy. You think that would have been more widely published in the age of the internet. Sharing everywhere.

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