Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ernest Withers Goes Home: "He Saw the World Through Our Eyes"

Posted By on Sat, Oct 20, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Mourners of Ernest Withers filled the Pentecostal Temple Institutional Church of God in Christ downtown Saturday afternoon to celebrate the home-going of the world-renowned photographer who died Monday at age 85.

A celebratory tone prevailed among the many friends, family members, and public officials who spoke at the funeral. Eulogists represented the many facets of Withers’ life.

Afro-centric spiritualist Ekpe Abioto assured the crowd that “death is a fulfillment of life.� Trumpeter Mickey Gregory, a former Stax Records session player and Beale Street club entertainer represented Withers’ rhythm and blues associates, though he performed the popular gospel composition “Take My Hand Precious Lord.�

Mayor Willie Herenton called Withers a “giant and a genius,� expressing his gratitude to God “that I Willie Herenton had the privilege of kneeling at [Withers’] feet.

“They don’t put just anybody’s obituary in the New York Times,� he reminded the audience.

Reverend Samuel “Billy� Kyles, said that like the drop of water that knocks holes in stone by oft-falling, Withers “camera knocked holes in the stones of ignorance one click at a time.�

Beale Street developer John Elkington promised “there will always be a Withers gallery on Beale.� He added that he once asked Withers if he’d been afraid photographing civil rights era riots and episodes of police brutality.

“No,� Withers told Elkington. “I was too busy working.�

Finally, a family member evoked tender personal memories of Withers playing on the floor and watching cartoons with his grandchildren. “He saw the world through our eyes,� Withers’ granddaughter Esi Sawyer recalled.

Those gathered would agree that we’re better for having seen the world through his.

A procession down Beale Street and interment at Elmwood Cemetery followed.

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