Unfinished: Ernie's Secret

Episode 9: The Assassination

WES: It was supposed to be a peaceful, nonviolentmarch. But the morning after, newspapers across the country told a verydifferent story in their headlines. "King's March produces a riot in RiverCity. 150 fires, 62 hurt one death." "Martin Luther King's tacticschallenged in Memphis." "King leads a demonstration. He flees asviolence begins." Martin Luther King had led a demonstration throughdowntown Memphis that ended in violence. A riot had erupted from inside themarch. Windows were smashed, stores looted. One person was killed by thepolice. By the time King returned home to Atlanta, he was a man in crisis.


ANDREW YOUNG: Martin came back home and was probablymore depressed than I'd ever seen him.


WES: A close aide, Andrew Young, said that Kingfeared his reputation was on the line. He was the leader of the nonviolentcivil rights movement. But now things had gone violent. King knew that he hadto go back to Memphis, that he had to return to lead a peaceful march. But hewasn't getting much support from his inner circle at the Southern ChristianLeadership Conference, the SCLC. They didn't want to get bogged down inMemphis. They were thinking about what was coming next. Going back to Memphis,back to the sanitation workers strike. That felt like moving backwards. Theyneeded King to move forward to be thinking about the next huge protest that wasin the works in Washington, D.C.. But King was angry. He was frustrated withtheir lack of support.


ANDREW YOUNG: It's the only time he ever had even ashort temper with us. He was very brusk with us.


WES: "I want you to come with me toMemphis." Young recalls King telling him. King stormed out of the office,shouting, I feel so alone. He was tired. He was under attack by the media, bythe white leaders back in Memphis and even by some people inside the movement.King made one more appeal.


ANDREW YOUNG: He said, Look, you all have left me outthere by myself. I'm not the one to bear this whole burden for the nation. Hesaid, All of you need to carry your psart. And in a way, he he gave uspermission to carry on without him.


WES: King's words were poignant, and it would turnout prophetic. But for now, the debate was over. They were headed back toMemphis. This is Unfinished: Ernie's Secret. I'm Wesley Lowery.


WES: King's return to Memphis was important for acouple of reasons. There was the promise he had made to Lizzie Payne, themother of 16 year old Lary Payne, a black boy who had been killed by the policeduring the chaotic Memphis march. But then there was the matter of King'snational reputation. For months, King and other civil rights leaders had beenplanning a protest in Washington, D.C. They were going to bring thousands ofpoor people to live in tents on the National Mall. King was calling it the PoorPeople's Campaign. Its goals: full employment, a guaranteed income and decenthousing for every American. We all remember Dr. King as a civil rights icon.But by the mid 1960s, King had another big and challenging dream: theredistribution of the nation's wealth. He wanted to force the government todeal with the issue of poverty, and he was calling it a new phase of the civilrights movement. In speech after speech, King preached that while the civilrights movement had won new voting rights and the desegregation of busses andlunch counters, as long as black people remained poor, they would never reallybe free.


MLK JR: Now our struggle is for genuine equality,which means economic equality. Yeah, but we know now it isn't enough tointegrate lunch counters. What does a profit a man to be able to eat at anintegrated lunch counter, if you don't earn enough money to buy a hamburger anda cup of coffee.


WES: This was a different Martin Luther King Jr. Amore radical Dr. King. He was speaking out against the war in Vietnam. He waschallenging American democracy and capitalism. But King knew that hisnonviolent struggle for economic justice was to succeed. He had to followthrough on what he had started in Memphis. He had to lead a nonviolent demonstrationthere. In this episode, we're going to tell the story of King's final visit toMemphis. What happened on his return trip on April 3rd and April 4th wouldforever shape the movement and the nation. And there for all of it was ErnestWithers, capturing images for the history books, and intel for the FBI. It wasa cloudy, cool day in Atlanta as Dr. King and his inner circle boarded a blueand white Eastern Airlines jet to Memphis. As if the tension wasn't high enoughalready--


DORTHY: There was an announcement from the pilotsaying, "Sorry folks, but we have to ask you to disembark."


WES: That's Dorthy Cotton, the only woman on King'sexecutive staff.


DORTHY: "We have had a bomb threat, and I needyou to get off because we have to check the plane ensure that is all clear andthat we can go. "


WES: After an hour, they were cleared to board theplane again. It was April 3rd, 1968. The past few days have been rough, but nowthat they have decided to go back to Memphis, Andrew Young recalled Dr. Kingfeeling a little bit better.


ANDREW YOUNG: On the way back to Memphis. He seemedto have overcome his depression and was his old self again. He really keptteasing us and joking and and I mean, there was no  fear or anxiety on his part.


WES: When their plane landed at the Memphis MunicipalAirport, Ernest Withers was there, camera in hand, ready to meet them. He tooka photo of King with his aides, Ralph Abernathy and Bernard Lee. All of themare dressed in white shirts and they're wearing dark suits. King opened thedoor to a waiting Buick, and they all headed downtown. They checked intoMemphis's Black owned Lorraine Motel. King was in room 306. Dr. King and hisallies were worried about that group of disenchanted militant black youths inMemphis, the group that many had blamed for the violence that broke out duringthe march a few days earlier. Their official name was the Black OrganizingProject, the BOP, but everyone in town called them the invaders. They deniedany involvement with the violence. But King knew that if he wanted to be surethat his next march stayed peaceful, he needed to control these guys. There wasa group of invaders who were also staying at the hotel. The SCLC offered to payfor a couple of rooms for their leaders. One of the invaders, John Smith, wasstaying just down the hall from King in a room 315. But even though the SCLCwas paying their bill, it was clear that many of the movement leaders didn'twant anything to do with the invaders. Here's John Smith.


JOHN SMITH: Their whole thing is to try and convinceDr. King not to bring us in. We are givin civil rights a bad name. We wereirresponsible. We were undisciplined. We couldn't be trusted like they could betrusted.


WES: But King wanted these young militants on board.He arranged to have lunch with them that afternoon.


DORTHY: That was not a formally structured meeting,except we knew we had to meet these guys. We had to have them understand what anonviolent protest looks like and why it must come from the nonviolentperspective. And because they had had no training, they were just operating outof out of anger.


WES: John Smith remembers King entering the roomwearing a suit, but no tie.


JOHN SMITH: I think Dr. King said something like,It's good to be here to meet you and glad you could give me this kind of timeor something like this. You know, small talk to get it started.


WES: We need you on our side, King told the youngactivists. But they complained back to him. The black leadership in Memphisdidn't respect them. It wouldn't give them any role in the movement locally.King was sympathetic. He said he wasn't there to blame them for what happenedduring the last March. In fact, he hadn't even known there was a black powergroup in Memphis. He conceded that the preachers who had planned the last marchhad ignored them and that that had been a mistake.


JOHN SMITH: Had he known that we were a group, hewould have tried to meet with us and to make sure that we were a part ofthings.


ANDREW YOUNG: He didn't blame them. He, by and large,said we should have come in and explained to you what we were trying to do. Andif we had done that, you wouldn't have been caught up in this confusion andviolence. So he was very conciliatory.


JOHN SMITH: And he wanted to know, you know, would webe willing to work with him in making sure that he had a peaceful march?


WES: King offered to make them parade marshals in theupcoming march, and he said that if they committed to remain nonviolent, hewould have them work security for the Poor People's march that was coming up inWashington. But the invaders wanted something else.


ANDREW YOUNG: They were asking us for $40,000. And,you know, we laughed. And Dr. King was explaining to them how we ran ourbudgets, how much his salary was, which was $6,000 a year from his church.


WES: On the eighth floor of the Federal Building inMemphis, FBI Special Agent Bill Lawrence was tracking King's arrival and thenhis ongoing interactions with the invaders. And to do so, he was using one ofhis best assets, photographer Ernest Withers. Ernest sent a constant stream ofdetails about the strategy meetings at the Lorraine. They went on all day andlate into the night. He told his handlers at the FBI that the motel was abeehive of activity. According to the reports, Ernest believed the invaders weretrying to blackmail Dr. King. They wanted to give the impression that theycould prevent any violence. He told Bill Lawrence that one of the invaders,Charles Cabbage, had said--.


ACTOR AS BILL LAWRENCE: Only he and his followerswould have had the ear and confidence of the militant black youths in thecommunity, and that if they were properly funded, they could keep the lid on.In other words, prevent violence.


WES: And then, according to the report, Ernestoffered this commentary:


ACTOR AS BILL LAWRENCE: Source 1 stated that Cabbagevery definitely appeared to be trying to drop a pigeon on the SCLC


WES: Drop a pigeon. That's slang for swindle. This iswhat Ernest said Cabbage was doing to the movement leaders.


ACTOR AS BILL LAWRENCE: That this is a form ofblackmail on his part, where he, in effect, is saying to them, "Give usmoney or we can't be responsible for any violence which might happen."


WES: Inside King staff and among local movement leaders,there was a lot of concern over these negotiations. Ernest reported that peopleon King's staff lamented the fact that the meetings with the invaders, alsoknown as the Black Organizing Project, were taking place at all. Ernest toldthe FBI that Maxine Smith of the local NAACP said that some of the invaderswere, quote, too militant and too distrustful, and that Reverend James Lawson,who'd been organizing support for the striking sanitation workers from thestart, was angry.


ACTOR AS BILL LAWRENCE: Lawson made the comment,according to source 1 on April 3rd, 1968, that we had an excellent movementhere and BOP, by its irresponsibility, can ruin it. He stated that all BOP doesis beg money and to criticize and that it never offers anything constructive.


WES: Now, some people have accused the invaders ofblackmailing him, that this was a threat in some way.




WES: Edwina Herrell was the only woman leader in theinvaders. She was part of the group staying at Lorraine Motel and meeting withDr. King and his staff.


WES: Well, you see how that march went. If you don't,you don't pay up. See, what's. This is what's going to happen again. What doyou make of that theory? Well, you know what? You were in the meetings. Youwere there.


EDWINA: Yeah, It was always to put us out side ofwhat they were doing. Never bring us in. Like Doc was wanting us to do. Healways wanted us to be inside a part of because we had the energy, theyouthfulness, we had the knowledge, we had, you know, the desire to dosomething positive for the community. And the old guard just wanted to keep itthe same way.


WES: By late afternoon on the third, it was gettingdark. There was rain and thunder and heavy wind. Dr. King was supposed to speakat a rally that night, but he was exhausted. It was still only his first day inMemphis, and he had laryngitis.


ANDREW YOUNG: And I think that day he had a feverbecause it started raining and he was decided he was going to stay in and notgo to the mass media.


WES: So he sent Ralph Abernathy to address the crowdat Mason Temple, the headquarters of the International Church of God in Christ.Despite the bad weather, thousands of people had showed up to see Dr. King.


ANDREW YOUNG: The church was not only full, people werestanding outside in the rain.


BILLY KYLES: The mood was quite good because to havethat many people show up at a rainy rally was something to be joyous about.


WES: Billy Kyles was a prominent Memphis pastor and amember of Kings National Board. He was there at the Mason Temple that night.


BILLY KYLES: Sanitation workers made an effort todress up. They didn't want to go to church, not dressed up. And we were readingthe scripture. We were singing songs. We were having people to what we calltestify.


WES: Billy Kyles and the others were doing theirbest, but the crowd was calling for King. Ralph Abernathy stepped away andphoned King. Dorothy Cotton remembers that call.


DORTHY: He said, Martin, you have to get over here,because when the crowd in this church saw me, they went wild. The crowd wentwild because they thought you were right behind me.


WES: King didn't hesitate. Okay, I'll come.


DORTHY: He was tired. Very, very tired. You canimagine how busy we were during this whole period. He was very tired, wasn'tdressed, wasn't shaved as he like to be shaved. And, you know, whenever you addit all, you know, dressed up. But he got off the bed, got himself together andsaid, I need to get over to the church.


WES: King arrived at the church and made his way tothe pulpit.


BILLY KYLES: Thank you very kindly, my friends.


WES: He started off slow. He had no notes. He spokeabout the strike, about the need to come together.


MLK JR: Now I'm just happy that God has allowed me tolive in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that he's allowedme to be in Memphis.


WES: Earlier that day, a judge had issued a temporaryinjunction blocking the march that King had planned for April 8th. But Dr. Kingsaid nothing would stop this march.


MLK JR: So justice, I say we are going to let the dogor water hoses turn us around. We are'nt going to let any injunction turn usaround!


ANDREW YOUNG: The intention originally it was just tomake a few remarks and give, you know, encourage people to carry on.


WES: King started talking about life and near-deathexperiences, about a time when he was stabbed with a letter opener.


MLK JR: That the tip of the blade was on the edge ofmy ear or the main artery.


WES: Andrew Young and Billy Kyles said that King hadtalked about death before.


ANDREW YOUNG: In very dangerous situations, he quiteoften, you know, made that kind of speech. So we didn't think there wasanything unusual about it and certainly didn't think it was in any way his lastspeech.


MLK JR: Well, I don't know what will happen now.We've got some difficult days ahead.


BILLY KYLES: And he just reached back and got a lotof various different speeches he had made and brought it, brought it forwardand then said, "I may not get there with you, but you will get to thePromised Land. Because God has allowed me to go up on the mountain, and I havelooked over and I've seeeeen the promised land.."


MLK JR: I may not get there with you, but I want youto know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. Oh, so I'mhappy tonight, I'm not worried about anything. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.


WES: The audience exploded, leaping out of theirseats. King turned from the pulpit. He looked exhausted, drained.


BILLY KYLES: And he couldn't walk to his seat. We hadto physically lift him and take him to a seat and we were all in tears. We knewsomething had happened and we knew something was going to happen.


WES: Just ahead, April 4th, 1968.


WES: Morning broke, chilly and windy, but the rainhad stopped. Here's John Smith.


JOHN SMITH: April 4th, I remember it was a beautifulday, one of the prettiest of that period because it had been cloudy and hazy,but April 4th was all sunshine.


WES: On the morning of the fourth, Dorothy Cottondecided to return to Atlanta. The night before, Dr. King had asked for somefood and then he hadn't shown up to eat it.


DORTHY: So my annoyance was he didn't tell me. Hedidn't even call to say, I'm not coming to, you know, whatever. And I had putall this stuff together.


WES: And so now Dorothy was holding a grudge. She wasfeeling unappreciated. She planned to take a 1 p.m. flight. King called her tohis room. He asked her to stay.


DORTHY: And he kept saying, He said Dorothy, you canget a later plane. And I said, I really need to get this plane in. And I didget that plane.


WES: Andrew Young was headed to court that morning. Hewas trying to get the injunction lifted so the march could continue. ErnestWithers was there, too. He wanted to see what would happen. Sometime after 3p.m. that afternoon, the judge announced he was lifting the injunction andErnest gave Andrew Young a ride back to the Lorraine.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): So I dropped him at thehotel, came back and was sitting in my office down there with my feet proppedup in the chair because I would just, you know, basically tired from being inthe court all day long.


WES: Andrew Young walked into King's room to sharethe good news.


ANDREW YOUNG: Well, we can march. The judge gave uspermission. So and the case went very good. And he was he was more playful thanI had seen him in years. And he said, where have you been? And I said, I'vebeen in the courtroom. Why didn't you call me? I said, No phones. And I was onthe witness stand. "You have to find some way to let me know what's goingon." And I said, Come on, now, you know where I was. I don't know what I saidthat sparked it. But he picked up a pillow off the bed and threw it at me. AndI threw it back and everybody just sort of picked up pillows and startedbeating me up.


WES: Back in Atlanta, Dorothy Cotton's plane landedinstead of heading straight to the office, she decided to go home.


DORTHY: I get to Atlanta and I realize that I'mabsolutely exhausted because we had really worked. But because I was so tired,I decided to take a nap before I went down to the SCLC offices.


WES: John Smith said that he and Charles Cabbageknocked on King's door that afternoon. They went inside. They sat across fromhim on one of the beds. They told Dr. King that they couldn't organize withoutmoney. Dr. King made a phone call. He told the young man he'd gotten the okayto write a promissory note for $10,000. King took out his checkbook and he toldthem--


JOHN SMITH: "You can't cash it, but you can holdit to show that my intentions are good to help you get funded. And once we workout the details of how the funding mechanism will work, then you know, it'll begood." Well, we go back to the room and we talk to everybody. We show themthe check. And of course, there's cheers all around. We did it. We got themoney. We got funded. We gonna be an organization that's doing somethingpositive. And then somebody comes up from downstairs and says that SCLC is nolonger going to pay for the room. We gotta vacate.


WES: John Smith and the other invader leaders checkedout of their motel and headed back to the neighborhood. Dr. King started to getready. They were supposed to go to Billy Kyle's house for dinner. Billy knockedon Dr. King's door around 5:50 p.m., and King joked with him about the menu forthe night.


BILLY KYLES: "I'm going to your house. And thenI don't want no filet mignon. I want some soul food." I said, okay, we'llhave that for you.


WES: He followed Billie out to the balcony. Membersof his staff were hanging out in the courtyard.


BILLY KYLES: He was standing here. I was standingthere. He was greeting people across the banister, greeting people. Marlon wasleaning over, talking to Jesse Jackson across the balcony. I said, Guys, wehave got to go. We have a rally tonight.


ANDREW YOUNG: It was beginning to get cool. And Isaid, I think you better go back and get a coat because the weather's changing.And it was like he lifted up his head to say, "I don't think it's coldenough for a coat." And then, the shot rang out.


BILLY KYLES: I turned to go down the steps. And Iheard this noise.


ANDREW YOUNG: And because we were down thereclowning, I thought it was a backfire of a firecracker or something. I mean,all I could see from the bottom was his shoes. I mean, it had knocked him outof his shoes. And his shoes were under the I could see the shoes from thebottom, but I couldn't see him. So I ran up and I realized that he'd been shot.


BILLY KYLES: The bullet pierced the side of his face.Blood oozed out. Just oozed out. Blood was flowing. I couldn't believe what washappening. It was beyond my belief. I just I could not believe what I waslooking at.


ANDREW YOUNG: My reaction was first reaction was thatyou going to heaven and leaving us with all this hell. And my next reactionwas, well, if anybody has earned a heavenly reward, you certainly have. But howare we going to carry on without you? I have no idea.


BILLY KYLES: I ran back in the room to call anambulance. By that time the police were coming, I hollered to the police. Callan ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot.


NEWSCASTER: This is Ray Sherman, United PressInternational in Memphis. Memphis police report has confirmed that ReverendMartin Luther King has been shot.


WES: When the police arrived, Billy Kyles and theothers were still standing on the balcony. The police called up to them.


BILLY KYLES: They said "where the shot comefrom?" So that famous picture of us pointing on the balcony of the motel.


WES: We all know that photo. Ralph Abernathy, JesseJackson, Billy Kyles, and a college student named Mary Louise Hunt. Allstanding on the balcony. Arms outstretched, pointing in the direction of wherethe fatal shot had been fired. Andrew Young is there, too, standing next to hismortally wounded friend. And another man was there, Meryl McCullough, who wasactually an undercover police officer posing as a member of the invaders. He'skneeling beside King with one hand on the railing.


NEWSCASTER: Dr. Martin Luther King was received inthe emergency room at Saint Joseph Hospital at approximately 6:15 p.m. He waspronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. as a result of a gunshot wound in the right sideof the neck.


WES: Ernest was resting in his studio when the phonerang. The friend on the other end of the line told him to turn on the radio.Martin Luther King has been shot. For all of his unique access, for all of thetime that Ernest had spent with Dr. King in those final days, he wasn't the onewho took that historic picture on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. JosephLouw, a South African journalist, was in Memphis making a documentary about thePoor People's Campaign and staying just a few doors down from King. When heheard the gunshot, he rushed outside and he saw King's body on the balcony just40 feet away. "As I looked at Dr. King," he would later recall,"I could almost feel the wound myself." He grabbed his 35 millimetercamera and took some of the most famous news photos of the century. Even thoughErnest wasn't the one to take that picture, he still ended up playing acritical role that night. In speeches and interviews over the years, he talkedabout the hours that followed the assassination. After hearing the news, hegrabbed his own camera and ran over to the motel. That's where he met Joe Louw,who wanted to get his film developed right away.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): He asked me for use of mylab where he could come and develop the film.


WES: By now, the city was locked down. But Ernest hada friend in the local National Guard, and he was able to get Louw back to hisstudio.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): I put him in the darkroomand the noise that he was making, which was not required. I knew he didn't knowwhat he was doing.


WES: Louw was a filmmaker, not a photographer, and hehad jammed the film in the camera trying to rewind it. Ernest had to take over.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): I had him to put the filmin a box, went in and developed the two rolls of film. Which were perfect.


WES: Ernest ran back to the motel and took photosinside Room 306 where Dr. King had been staying. He photographed King's openbriefcase, his shaving kit, and clean change of clothes that remained in place.His copy of his own book, Strength to Love. On the balcony. He shot pictures ofthe pool of blood that was now dried across the concrete.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): This is blood. Left onthe balcony from the shot that caused the assassination. Martin On the balcony,the Lorraine Hotel.


WES: Before leaving that balcony, Ernest scraped someof King's blood into a small vial and put it in his pocket. In Atlanta. A neighborknocked on Dorothy Cotton's door.


DORTHY: In the middle of my nap and she said,Dorothy, Dr. King, somenody shot him! And that's how I got the message. Thesame afternoon, he's saying, get a later plane to me. Again, I still hear him saying, Dorothy, you can get a laterplane.


WES: She quickly dressed and rushed over to theking's home to be with his wife, Coretta.


DORTHY: I remember getting myself in the house andshe was kind of back in the bedroom. I remember walking back to the bedroom andjust, you know, just being with her. And I remember that I talked with her alot, you know, the week. So see us now, zombie like going through, you know,really internalizing this what had happened to us and say to us, because, youknow, our leader, our spokesperson, our friend was no longer with us. But in away, he was.


WES: How did you find out that King had been shot?


EDWINA: This is like one of the most epic times in mylife.


WES: Edwina and the other invaders had left theLorraine just before King had been shot.


EDWINA: Before we could get three miles down theroad, we turn the radio on and it said something about him being shot. Andwhen, we tried to double back. This wasn't even 3 minutes later. We tried todouble back and everything was blocked off. You couldn't. We even took the sideway back that we usually took, not the front way, but the back side way. It wasblocked. Everything was blocked. All we saw were people running up the stairs.And shouting. And they wouldn't let us get any closer. So we went away. It wasI mean, to to see somebody and 5 minutes later, they're dead. And like I said,at 19, I was shocked. It was not good.


WES: They were headed back to their homes carrying acheck for $10,000 they said had just been signed by Dr. King. Ernest left theLorraine and headed across town to the RS Louis funeral home.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): Went down in the basementlevel to the mall and went in there where Martin King body lay.


WES: He was alone with Dr. King's body, which waslying on the involving table. It was a horrific sight. The top of his head wasgone. Ernest described the scene in the 2003 interview.


ERNEST WITHERS (INTERVIEW): And his skull was on theside where they cut his head open. You know, I don't know how it was, but I putthe skull back in his head and his head was full of paper.


WES: Ernest waited as the undertaker dressed king ina dark suit and covered his horrendous injuries. And then Ernest took picturesof King laying in his casket.


ROZ WITHERS: The death of Martin King ate my fatheralive. He was devastated.


WES: Roz Withers was just a kid. But she has very clear memories of her father at thetime of King's assassination.


ROZ WITHERS: I remember his devastation and himscraping his blood off of that concrete floor and putting it in a jar andbringing it home and putting it in our freezer.


WES: Really.


ROZ WITHERS: My mom and him had the biggest fightover the blood being in our freezer because my father was just so distraughtand then jar broke in our freezer and my mom was livid. But he-- it devastatedhim.


WES: Why? Why was he so upset?


ROZ WITHERS: Because of what Martin represented. Hesaw the things Martin had accomplished in this country as a journalist. He sawthings before we saw. We see them now because it's been, you know, recorded andrerun and, you know, but from a journalistic standpoint, he was on thefrontline watching it. He was seeing it.


NEWSCASTER: Thousands flowed through the rainystreets of Memphis this day, finishing a march that Dr. King planned to lead insupport of striking garbage workers.


WES: On April 8th, tens of thousands of peoplesilently marched through Memphis in honor of Dr. King. They were led by CorettaScott King, the SCLC and union leaders, and they were demanding that the mayorgive in to the sanitation workers request. Nearly two weeks later, cityofficials agreed, granting the workers raises and recognizing their union.


MARCHERS: No police vote, no police vote, no policevote, no police! no police!


WES: About a month after King's death, more than 3000people from across the country traveled to Washington. They built a shantytownon the National Mall and named it Resurrection City. They staged nonviolentprotest just like Dr. King had planned. The invaders ended up helping to bringgroups to Resurrection City. Although the money that King promised nevermaterialized. John Smith said, "We felt like we had to honor our promiseto him." The event ended up being a disaster. It rained, which turned thewhole thing into a muddy sinkhole, and the protest was largely ignored byCongress and the media. After six weeks, the campaign ended and the movementcontinued to splinter. Critics of the nonviolent strategy grew in strength, andso the FBI gave Ernest a new assignment. No longer was he focused on the civilrights movement, but instead on the so-called extremist groups like theInvaders and the Black Panthers. Eventually the FBI would succeed in destroyingthe black power movement. And based on records we've seen, Ernest ended hiswork as an informant in 1976, but its impact on his legacy was far from over.On the final episode of Unfinished Ernie's Secret, Bill Lawrence is called totestify before a congressional committee, and so is Ernest Withers.


WES: This season of Unfinished is aco-production of Stitcher and Scripps. Our senior producer is Roy Hurst. Theeditor is Tracy Samuelson. Our show was written by Ellen Weiss. Executiveproducers are Kameel Stanley and Ellen Weiss. Our music is composed by Edward“Tex” Miller. Mixing is by Casey Holford. Special thanks to reporter and authorMarc Perrusquia for sharing documents, sources, and his years of work on thisstory. Marc is the author of the book A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used aFamous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement. He’s currentlythe director at the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University ofMemphis. 

Thanks also to the WGBH archives. We had productionhelp from Mckenna Smith and Suzanne Reburn. Our FBI documents were brought tolife by actor Corey Landis. Fact checking was by Kelvin Bias. Stitcher’s VicePresident of Content is Peter Clowney. If you like the show and believe in thiskind of storytelling, please give us a five star review on Apple Podcasts.It’ll help more people discover Unfinished. I’m Wesley Lowery, thanksfor listening.