NASHVILLE, TN — Marc Perrusquia, the author of A Spy in Canaan, will appear at the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University next Monday, Oct. 15 at 6 pm. He’ll be talking about political surveillance during the Martin Luther King era in Memphis in which Nashville publisher Rosetta Miller Perry was under surveillance by the FBI.
Renowned photographer Ernest Withers captured some of the most stunning moments of the civil rights era—from the age-defining snapshot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., riding one of the first integrated buses in Montgomery, to the haunting photo of Emmett Till’s great-uncle pointing an accusing finger at his nephew’s killers. He was trusted and beloved by King’s inner circle, and had a front row seat to history . . . but few people know that Withers was also an informant for the FBI.
Even his good friend, Publisher Rosetta Miller Perry, who was a Federal investigator during the day as well as a community activist after 6 pm and on weekends did not know he was an informant. She considered Withers a dear friend and talked with him up until a year before his death. She was shocked when she learned years later from a Commercial Appeal reporter that Wither’s had written about her and gave his notes to the FBI.
Miller Perry said she isn’t angry, sometimes people do what they have to do to survive. The only thing that bothers her is that it could have destroyed her Federal Career like some of the teachers in the movement in Memphis who lost their jobs because pictures were taken of them while marching for justice. Miller Perry stated that she still remembers when she was Director of The United States Equal Employment Commission here in Nashville, she met a man who marched in Memphis. The FBI and others of course took pictures so white employers could see if any of their black employees were involved. He said he worked for the company for 40 years and when he put in for his retirement, it was denied because it was improper conduct for a company employee, a lowly Black poorly paid truck driver to march in a parade without company permission. He said he took a vacation day so he thought he could do as he wanted and he also loved Dr. King. Miller Perry said she still thinks of how sad he was and all of the sadness she has seen all these years from those who have suffered from that March for Justice in Memphis, denied employment in Tennessee except for the lowest of paying jobs. Miller Perry said she has not read the book yet, but has had many calls from friends in Memphis who has read the book and they say it is outstanding.