Rain beat down on the roof of the dark sedan, the droplets sounding like the snare drum Ernest Withers used to march to back in the service. All those years ago, when things were so much simpler. When his photographs, and only his photographs, were the thing that mattered.
“Oh, don’t be like that, Ernest.” Said FBI Agent Lowe from the driver seat, eyes shooting back at Ernest through the rear view mirror. “We’ve been over this. It’s just like taking your pictures. They’re just subjects, and you’re just letting us know if happenstance brings you anything interesting.”
“You’re helping us to clarify things.” Followed up Lawrence, the other agent, giving an arthritic thumbs up. “So we can leave your people alone.”
“Our people?” Muttered Ernest, without thinking.
“What? What was that?” Snapped back Agent Lowe.
“They’re our people.” Ernest said, this time so they could hear him. “Yours and mine. They’re Americans. They’re not some Communists come to take our freedom. They don’t have to be. We’re doing it for them. We’re the spies here. We’re the traitors.”
Then Ernest Withers stepped out into the rain, knowing that it wouldn’t wash him clean, but still praying all the same.
Ernest Withers was a photographer during the Civil Rights Movement, probably the photographer of the Civil Rights Movement. But, he was also an informant for the FBI, and an ex-cop that got busted for taking a bribe. No one is ever as simple as historians want them to seem, and Ernest was no exception. He wasn’t a sinner or a saint, just a man trying to get by and keep his family fed.