Nightly News | September 14, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There's a stunning report tonight that an African-American photographer who took some of the most recognizable images from the civil rights era was doing double duty all the while by acting as an informant on the likes of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. Our own Ron Mott tonight has more on these new revelations about the photographer Ernest Withers and the reaction to it.
RON MOTT reporting: The times were turbulent, the nation was on edge, and he was there, up close and personal . The pictures he took during the civil rights movement unlike anyone else's. He had tremendous access, yet none of Ernest Withers ' famous and not-so-famous subjects apparently knew he was collecting more than snapshots. The centerpiece of a special report called " Double Exposure " in the Memphis Commercial Appeal , Withers was also allegedly on the payroll of J. Edgar Hoover 's FBI as informant number ME338R . Withers died three years ago.
Mr. CHRIS PECK (Memphis Commercial Appeal Editor): What was going on in the heart of a man where he did -- on one hand was a very -- a strong believer and supporter of civil rights , but at the same time was working in -- hand in hand with the FBI .
MOTT: The newspaper used federal documents to chronicle Withers ' coverage of the front lines in the civil rights movement .
Mr. RONALD KESSLER (Author, "The Secret History of the FBI"): Hoover wanted to have the goods on anybody who might possibly threaten the establishment or might be a celebrity of any kind, and this was a good conduit for getting that information.
Reverend JOSEPH LOWERY: While the FBI was using him, he was using the FBI .
MOTT: The Reverend Joseph Lowery is among those Withers documented.
Rev. LOWERY: I still would like to think that he understood that there was nothing he could do or give the FBI that would -- could be used to hurt us, to hurt the movement. I believe that about Ernest .
MOTT: The works of Ernest Withers have been in high demand for decades at museums and galleries around the country, including this one here in Atlanta . In fact, the Ernest Withers Museum is set to open in his old Beale Street Studio in Memphis . The allegations are a blow to Withers ' family, unconvinced they're true, fearful they could stain his legacy.
Ms. ROSALIND WITHERS GUZMAN (Ernest Withers' Daughter): He left images that are, in our minds, giving us a true picture of what took place. And to say that he betrayed African-Americans is a false statement.
MOTT: Images of the country's troubled history and the man behind them drawing new headlines decades later. Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And that's our broadcast on a Tuesday evening. Thank you, as always, for being here with us. I'm Brian Williams , and we hope to see