Yale University Acquires a Collection of Gordon Parks’ Photographs

Over 200 prints by renowned photographer Gordon Parks now lie in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s collections. The prints, which constitute one of the largest collections of his work available for study, were directly acquired from The Gordon Parks Foundation. The photographs include images of working-class people in Washington, D.C. during World War II, an Ebony magazine feature on Mamie Clark and Kenneth Clark, whose research on the effects of segregation on Black children influenced the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as well as photoshoots with Ralph Ellison and Muhammad Ali.

A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks, the youngest of 15 children, spent his formative years in the Minneapolis area. As a young teen, he left home and got a job playing piano at a brothel. He later worked as a waiter and a Pullman porter. On one train trip, he bought a small camera for $12.50 and soon began doing fashion photography shoots for a chic Minneapolis boutique.

After World War II, Parks moved to New York and he began a long career as a magazine photographer. His first assignments were for Vogue and then he became the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine where he took on many assignments dealing with the civil rights movement.

Parks, a true renaissance man, published his first novel, The Learning Tree, in 1963. Six years later, Parks produced and directed a movie based on his book. He later directed Shaft and three other feature films. Parks died in 2006.

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