Ernest Withers' daughter breaks silence on family feud - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Ernest Withers' daughter breaks silence on family feud, accusations

(WMC-TV) - Nearly half a decade after the death of famed civil rights photographer Ernest C. Withers, his surviving family will face off in court Friday.

Rosalind Withers is the trustee of her father's life work.

"In this responsibility, I have met with major adversities inside the family and outside," said Rosalind Withers.

For 60 years, Ernest Withers chronicled the lives of civil rights, from Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination to the day the Little Rock Nine desegregated schools.

"A reflection of history through photography," said Rosalind Withers.

Rosalind Withers said her father left specific instructions for his photos.

"He left my mother as his successor and then to follow my mother was myself," she said.

Just weeks after her mother died in 2008, Rosalind Withers said her two brothers sued to buy out and sell the trust.

"My family is no different than any other human family because no one agrees on all things," said Rosalind Withers.

After four years in court, Judge Arnold Goldin signed a settlement to split the trust among nine family members.  Friday, the brothers are asking Goldin to vacate the settlement and allow them to continue their quest to buy out the other family members.

"That is not what we need as a family," said Rosalind Withers.  "We need to stay united."

Rosalind Withers faces another battle out of court after reports claimed her father doubled as an FBI informant.

"This is the first time that I'm speaking to that publicly," said Rosalind Withers.

She said her father did not live a double life.

"To discredit the man is to try to erase the existence of this history," said Rosalind Withers.

She said her father spoke from the grave in "Pictures Tell the Story," published a decade before the allegations.

"I tried not to know too much about the inside because I always had FBI agents looking over my shoulder," Rosalind Withers read from her father's book.

While the Ernest Withers Museum on Beale Street features 93 civil rights era photographs, Rosalind Withers said much more is at stake.

For the first time, Rosalind Withers allowed a camera inside her father's secret vault, which houses more than one million images.

"Isaac Hayes, Helen Washington, Brook Benton," she said.

Negatives were left behind with dates and captions.  The family will digitize the images which range from portraits to schools, Beale Street, and entertainers.

Rosalind Withers said the court battle has taken her away from the real work she said she was trained to carry out from birth.

Groups from across the country want to host the collection.

"It is my fight to make sure that his work stays in Memphis," said Rosalind Withers.

She said she wants to expand the museum inside her father's last studio to keep the collection in the family.

"The baton has to be passed on to the next generation," she said.

Rosalind Withers' brothers release the following statement:

"The hearing Friday is concerning the working out of a settlement agreement among the beneficiaries of the Ernest C. Withers Trust.  Although we expect a swift and amicable resolution of the issues involved in this matter, the fact that it is pending to be heard by the court makes any public comment improper."

To visit the Withers Collection website, click here.

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