Encyclopedia of African American Artists

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Gordon Alexander Parks (1912–2006), Photographer, Composer, Film Director, Poet, Author.

“When the doors of promise open, the trick is to quickly walk through them. … Racism is still around, but I’m not about to let it destroy me. Too much grave digging is going on, and firing anger at each other only keeps up the digging. If we would only remember the needs of our past, perhaps we could anticipate those of our future” (Parks 1997, 13). While Parks may have quickly walked through doors of promise, it must be noted that he worked hard and endured considerable hardship for the opportunity to reach those doors. Through perseverance and application of intuitive and cultivated talents, Parks made sure that he chose a path that led to the doors of promise.

He was born on a farm in Fort Scott, Kansas, on November 30, 1912, to Andrew Jackson Parks and Sarah Parks. The youngest of 15 children, his mother died while he was only 15, but not before she had fortified him with lessons that more than compensated for his lack of access to formal education. With all his brothers and sisters gone, Parks was soon sent to St. Paul, Minnesota, to live with one of his sisters. But his relationship with his brother-inlaw was less than cordial. One night, not long after he arrived in St. Paul, his brother-in-law threw him out into a minus-30-degree temperature. That would mark the beginning of a journey that would take Parks into the arts and lead him to a creatively fecund life that spanned music, film, painting, and photography. In order to survive the night in St. Paul, a city that he barely knew before he was thrown out, Parks spent the night riding the streetcars that plied St. Paul and Minneapolis. As the years wore on, Parks discovered that being far from Kansas did not diminish the incidents of racism, intolerance, prejudice, and sheer ignorance.

In the integrated high school that he attended in St. Paul, Parks’s white high school teacher, Miss McClintock, embodied all of these vices. She asked her black students not to even think of going to college, as this would amount to a waste of their families’ money: regardless of their education, they would only end up as porters and maids. Like many students of his ilk, Parks never finished high school. But at Princeton University on the occasion of the conferment of an honorary doctorate degree on Parks—his 45th honorary doctorate —the artist wished that Miss McClintock would have been there. Although his teacher’s bigotry demoralized many of her students while it galvanized a

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Encyclopedia of African American Artists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • A 1
  • B 17
  • C 35
  • D 55
  • E 77
  • F 95
  • G 99
  • H 105
  • J 117
  • K 125
  • L 133
  • M 151
  • N 169
  • O 173
  • P 181
  • R 201
  • S 211
  • T 231
  • U 239
  • V 243
  • W 247
  • Bibliography 271
  • Index 283
  • About the Author 295
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