Gordon Parks’ Legacy Behind & IN Front of the Camera
Goodwill of Colorado closes out our month-long celebration of Black History Month with a look through the life lenses of renowned Black American photojournalist, composer, author, poet, film director and civil rights trailblazer, Gordon Parks. Born November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was the youngest of 15 children in his family living a modest life provided by his hard-working father, Andrew, a farmer by trade and mother, Sarah, who passed away when Gordon was an early teen.
Parks’ experience with discrimination and racism began while attending a segregated elementary school. The young boy and his fellow Black students were prohibited from playing sports or participating in school activities and discouraged from pursuing a higher education or other opportunities. At the age of 11, Parks was cruelly thrown into a river by three white boys with the intent of drowning him, but Gordon thankfully was comfortable in the water and remained submerged while making it safely to land out of sight from his three adversaries.
Parks later caught the public’s eye at the age of 15 while struggling to survive on his own—singing and playing the piano for small audiences, bussing and waiting tables and later playing semi-professional baseball. But Parks’ biggest achievements and aspirations were literally exposed in his late twenties, when he purchased his first camera in a Seattle, Washington, pawnshop and taught himself how to snap photos.
Gordon’s eye for detail and compelling portrayals of Black Americans and their daily struggles escaping poverty and gaining equality helped him quickly rise through the ranks as an accomplished photojournalist and, later as a writer whose works were published in Vogue, Life and Essence magazines, the latter co-established by Parks in 1970. Parks’ work became so well known that he eventually was declared “one of the most provocative and celebrated photojournalists in the United States.”