For more than 60 years, photographer Ernest Withers captured the African-American experience with his camera, taking perfectly composed black and white shots that ranged from the simple pleasures of everyday to life to the titanic efforts of the Civil Rights movement.

Withers crossed paths with icons of the era and covered landmark events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. His work has been archived by the Library of Congress and scheduled for inclusion in the soon-to-be opened National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

After his death in 2007, the prolific Withers left behind more than 5 million images, leading his daughter, Rosalind, to open the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery in his hometown of Memphis to showcase his art and preserving his legacy.

Ernest WIthers

Ernest Withers outside his Memphis studio.

Panopticon Gallery, Waltham, MA, US

Among the millions of pictures Rosalind Withers found were a host of images featuring Coca-Cola products and signage, signifying the brand’s presence in the African-American community.

“Coca-Cola has been here all these years," she said. “You can see it. You can see the support they had in the community. There was obviously a great relationship back then and it was evident in the pictures."

Here is a selection of Ernest Withers' Coca-Cola pictures, with some thoughts from his daughter on their background.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stops for lunch on the way to a strategy session for March Against Fear, Memphis, TN, 1966.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Withers became close with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during a long relationship that started when the photographer snapped the first desegregated bus ride in Montgomery, Ala. Here, the civil rights leader stops for lunch outside Memphis before a strategy session during the March Against Fear from Tennessee to Mississippi in 1966.

Helen Ann Smith

Helen Ann Smith at Harlem House, Beale St., Memphis, TN, 1950s.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Helen Ann Smith poses at the counter of the Harlem House, a restaurant chain based in Memphis to serve African-American customers who were denied service at lunch counters in the South. “That is such a beautiful picture," Withers said. “This location was on Beale Street and it was very, very popular with musicians."


Young ladies on Main street during boycott demonstration against businesses that would not hire blacks, Memphis, TN, 1960s.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Two women on Memphis' Main Street take a break from protesting against job discrimination during the 1960s.

Martin's Stadium

Martin's Stadium after renovation with Dr. Withers' car parked out front, Memphis, TN, 1954.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Martin Stadium was home of the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues. It was built in the 1930s by two prominent African-Americans, J.B. and B.B. Martin, and was one of the few Negro League stadiums that belonged to the team itself. The facility, which grew to a nearly 7,000-seat capacity, was demolished in 1961.

T. Brown

T. Brown, an infielder for the Memphis Red Sox, in Martin's Stadium, Memphis, TN, ca. 1946.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

T.J. Brown was an infielder for the Memphis Red Sox from 1939-50 and was one of Withers' favorite players, who was quoted as saying, “He was a great ball player in the early days, when I first started making pictures." This picture was taken around 1946.

Withers sons

Withers sons with Satchel Paige in Martin's Stadium, Memphis, TN, 1950s.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

One of the greatest baseball players in history, Leroy “Satchel" Paige was both a star in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, playing until he was 48 years old and earning a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1971. During a barnstorming tour in the 1950s, Paige appears with five of Withers' sons. “Baseball was his passion," Rosalind Withers said. “For him to take all of his boys and meet Satchel Paige, that would have been huge."

Melrose High School Wildcat Stadium

Melrose High School Golden Wildcat Stadium hosts a pep rally for alumnus Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson; they are celebrating Finch and Robinson making it to the 1973 NCAA Men's Division #1 Basketball tournament with University of Memphis, along with Gene Bartow their coach, Memphis, TN, 1973.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

1973 was one of the biggest years in Memphis sports history, as the Memphis State Tigers made it to the NCAA championship game, where they lost to UCLA. This rally, at Melrose High School, features two of the Tigers' top players and Melrose High alums, Larry Finch (right) and Ronnie Robertson, honoring the Tigers' achievements.

2nd Annual Sportsmanship Awards

Two unidentified men pose before 2nd Annual Sportsmanship Awards banner, sponsored by Coca-Cola, Memphis, TN, 1953.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

Two unidentified men herald the “2nd Annual Sportsmanship Awards" at a banquet in Memphis sponsored by Coca-Cola in 1953.

1952 Ford Phantom Panel Coca-Cola delivery truck

1952 Ford Phantom Panel Coca-Cola delivery truck taking part in parade on Beale Street, Memphis, TN, 1950s.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

A Ford Phantom Panel truck makes its way through a Memphis neighborhood as a part of a parade in 1953. Coke trucks like these made deliveries around town and would appear at sporting events and other area functions to provide ice-cold refreshment.

Costume pageant

Young woman participating in costume pageant dressed as Coca-Cola contour bottle, Memphis, TN, 1950s.

Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

A young woman in a costume contest during the 1950s has the winning design: a Coca-Cola glass bottle, complete with a bottle cap crown. “Oh my goodness. When my son found that, I thought Coke would love that," Rosalind Withers says. “She is the true Coke thing and truly has the Coke bottle shape."