MEMPHIS, TN – One of this country’s preeminent civil rights photographers is receiving widespread attention from Hollywood celebrities 15 years after his death this month in 2007.
Rosalind Withers, daughter of Ernest C. Withers Sr. and director and curator of The Withers Collection Museum and Gallery in Memphis, said her father’s work reaches a global audience.
In association with Orion Pictures (an MGM company) and United Artists Releasing, some of Withers’ iconic photographs, along with others, will be exhibited alongside the Till film.
“We (The Withers Collection) worked on the initial release of the film,” said Rosalind Withers, who met Orion Pictures President Alana Mayo at a previous Withers exhibition.
According to Rosalind Withers, Mayo said, “We need to do something together on this film (Till) … and somehow integrate the Withers collection into this film.”
The film premiered to much fanfare on October 8 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills and also made its debut in New York and Chicago. Till also premiered in London on October 15.
Rosalind Withers attended the Beverly Hills screening of Till and exhibit entitled “Till: Impact of Images,” which featured African-American photographers and journalists from the Black Press Corps exploring this dark and tumultuous era in American history have captured.
“It was wonderful. It was probably one of the greatest events I’ve been to in a long time,” said Rosalind Withers. “It was LA’s first time seeing the film.”
Withers, L. Alex Wilson, Clotye Murdock, Simeon Booker and others who risked their lives for the story were described as “soldiers without swords” on the Till: Impact of Images website.
Sometimes cobbled together under dire circumstances, their stories and images revealed humanity at its worst when black lives were endangered and relegated to a harsh reality during the Jim Crow South.
The Till: Impact of Images collection is organized by the K Period Media Foundation and Lead With Love, with support from Orion Pictures, United Artists Releasing and the Till Film.
Personal photographs of the families of Emmett Louis Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, and Medgar and Myrlie Evers are also part of the Till: Impact of Images collection.
The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, the Medgar & Myrlie Evers Institute, and the Withers Collection are cited for their ongoing fight for equality and civil rights.
The Withers Collection also collaborated on a commemorative artwork for those attending the Till film premieres in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and provided them with a commemorative card section in honor of the above organizations.
The film is based on Till-Mobley’s courageous and relentless fight for justice after her 14-year-old son was brutally lynched in 1955. Till opened in select theaters on October 14 and will open nationwide on October 28.
It was directed and co-written by Chinonye Chukwu and produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Frederick M. Zollo, Thomas Levine, Keith Beauchamp, Michael Reilly and Barbara Broccoli.
It’s been 67 years since Emmett Till’s life was taken by white men for referencing a white woman on Money, Miss. His gruesome death is not the point of this Till film.
After the lynching of Emmett Till and the fuss surrounding his death, Withers went to Sumner, Miss., and risked his life to photograph the trial of Roy Bryant and JW Milam, who were acquitted of the Chicago boy’s murder.
“One of the things that we had in our exhibit was my father’s picture with Moses pointing at Wright (at Milam and Bryant when he was testifying at their trial),” Rosalind Withers said. “He was the only person who took this picture.”
Withers published a booklet containing photos from the trial and marketed it as the “Complete Photo Story of Till Murder Case”. The cost: $1.00. The pamphlet is now part of the Smithsonian collection, Rosalind Withers said.
She has another copy in her possession and describes it as “extremely valuable”. It was given to her by a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson, she said.
“It shows you how far-reaching Dad’s work is [has] influenced our history.”