A Memphis journalist unravels the double life of the Civil Rights Movement's most famous photographer as an FBI informant, chronicling Ernest Withers' monumental betrayal as well as his own dramatic reporting of the story.
It is a triumph of investigative reporting, the product of the author’s dogged research and a bold lawsuit backed by the Commercial Appeal. It also stirs an appetite for a richer history of the civil rights movement, though it cannot satisfy that hunger ... A Spy in Canaan brims with new details about the inner workings of the movement in Memphis and beyond. It rarely steps back to assess the complicated nature of black activism in this era, however. Perrusquia instead details the nature and impact of federal surveillance of American citizens exercising their right to lawful protest.
A Spy in Canaan is a reporter’s account filled with dramatic scenes, sharply etched characters and insights into FBI political surveillance, the civil rights movement and the journalistic process. And it is timely, given current protest movements on both the left and the right ... The author also puts Withers’ story in historical context, noting that it was the height of the Cold War, and the American Communist Party was widely seen as a threat. King’s confrontational, if nonviolent, tactics, moreover, were disturbing to many people, regardless of race. At one end of Beale Street now stands the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery that showcases his photography. Yet his role as an informant remains out of the spotlight. As A Spy in Canaan adeptly shows, history is not always so clear-cut. The book also makes a convincing case that the FOIA should be strengthened to help the public access records necessary to better understand this complex and pivotal period.
A Spy in Canaan, by Commercial Appeal investigative reporter... Marc Perrusquia, is a meticulously documented, finely written account of Withers’ life and times and of how his duplicity came to light. Withers’ story is fascinating and troubling, that of a man who regularly displayed courage and treachery ... This remarkable book more than succeeds in [Perrusquia's] quest.