Graduation Class of 2022, STAND UP!!! The obstacles and circumstances that were placed in front of you during your trek to this destination were an unprecedented test of mettle, and congratulations on the achievement. These are the good ole days my friends, live it up!!! Hopefully, your futures will be productive and distinctive enough that your alma mater will be as proud of you as you are of it. Double that sentiment if you rep an HBCU!
As a Howard Bison glad to see we once again made a significant move that has historic consequences as Howard University and The Gordon Parks Foundation today acquired 252 photographs representing the arc of Gordon Parks’ career over five decades. The breadth of the collection, which spans Parks’ earliest photographs in the 1940s through the 1990s, makes it one of the most comprehensive resources for the study of Parks’ life and work anywhere in the world. The Gordon Parks Legacy Collection, a combined gift and purchase, will be housed in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Organized thematically by subject into 15 study sets, the photographs serve as a rich repository for the development of exhibitions and multidisciplinary curricula that advances scholarship on Parks’ contributions as an artist and humanitarian.
Howard University’s acquisition is part of The Gordon Parks Foundation’s commitment to supporting initiatives that provide access to and deepen understanding of the work and vision of Parks for artists, scholars, students, and the public. Building on this partnership, the Foundation and Howard University are exploring future projects that draw on the collection to catalyze new research and joint programming. In layman’s language, if you’ve ever picked up a Canon or Nikon to express yourself artistically and document this moment in time for historical prosperity, you owe a debt to the legacy of Gordon Parks.
This is better articulated by Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., executive director of The Gordon Parks Foundation, who said, “This landmark collection of photographs by one of the great chroniclers of Black American life provides artists, journalists, and scholars at Howard University with a new resource to study and embrace the lasting impact of Gordon Parks. As a photographer working in segregated Washington, D.C., in 1942, Parks established his first connections with Howard, which then embodied many of the values that his work came to represent. For him that was a learning experience, which makes Howard a fitting place to keep his art alive.”
“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University. “Mr. Parks was a trailblazer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans, especially during the civil rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who viewed his work. Having a collection of his timeless photographs in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will allow Howard University faculty, students, and visiting scholars to draw on his work and build upon his legacy of truth telling and representation through the arts.”
“I am extremely excited about this historic acquisition by Howard University and this rich addition to Moorland-Spingarn’s collection,” said Benjamin Talton, Ph.D., director of The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. “The collection fortifies Howard’s place as the preeminent institution preserving the legacy of the global Black experience. In addition to acquiring the nation’s largest Gordon Parks collection, Howard University is gaining a partner in the Gordon Parks Foundation. I am grateful that our students and faculty will have direct access to Parks’ work and the resources of the Gordon Parks Foundation for research and teaching. As a photographer and filmmaker, Parks left us with a unique narrative of the rich diversity that is African American life in the United States and the beauty and pain of the American story more broadly, during the second half of the 20th century.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity for both Howard University and The Gordon Parks Foundation. Gordon Parks’ work helped define American art in the 20th century and there is no better place poised to help safeguard his legacy than the Mecca of Black education,” added Jelani Cobb, board member of The Gordon Parks Foundation.
Among the qualities that make this acquisition distinct is the inclusion of photographs created by Parks early in his career, during the 1940s. His portraits of members of Black communities in Minneapolis and Chicago, some of which circulated in Black media outlets of the time, are crucial for understanding Parks’ emergence as a photographer working for the popular press. These communities and the Southside Community Arts Center, where Parks operated his studio and exhibited work, allowed for the creative exchange of ideas and inspiration from the talents it attracted, and this confluence would forge some of Parks’ most consequential relationships. Other highlights of the collection include early portraits of historical figures before they achieved national and international recognition, including Robert Todd Duncan, who is best known for his role as Porgy in the premiere production of “Porgy and Bess” and as one of the first African Americans to sing with a major opera company; Margaret Taylor-Boroughs, visual artist, writer, poet, educator, and arts organizer who co-founded what is today the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago; renowned musical conductor Charles Dean Dixon, the first African American guest conductor of The New York Philharmonic; and stage actress Hilda Simms, who played the title role in the boundary breaking all-Black production of Anna Lucasta on Broadway.
The collection traces Parks’ progression from these early portraits of rising talents to becoming a leading photographer of Black celebrity through the subsequent decades. Represented are Parks’ mid-career works: Sidney Poitier in “A Raisin in the Sun,” New York, New York, 1959; Duke Ellington in Concert, New York, 1960; Louis Armstrong, Los Angeles, California, 1969; among other photographs of notable figures from the period.
Following this arc, the holdings also include photographs taken later in Parks’ career of subjects representing new generations of changemakers at the height of their emergence on the cultural scene, including portraits of the iconic fashion model Iman from the 1970s, and images taken in New York of jazz musician Miles Davis in 1981, and filmmaker Spike Lee in 1990.
Using his camera as his “choice of weapons,” Parks chronicled Black America’s struggles and triumphs throughout his career as a means of advancing social justice. This lifelong commitment is reflected in several study sets featured in the acquisition, including select works from Parks’ landmark 1956 color photo essay for Life magazine, later known as “Segregation Story,” which had exposed the daily realities of Black Americans living under Jim Crow law in the rural South. Also represented are Parks’ photographs of the March on Washington and leaders of the Civil rights movement, including Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.
This announcement was made public recently at Cipriani 42nd Street, as The Gordon Parks Foundation celebrated his lasting impact and recognized those continuing his commitment to advancing social justice. The Gordon Parks Foundation Award was presented to artist Mark Bradford, Emerson Collective founder and President Laurene Powell Jobs, film producer Tonya Lewis Lee, director Spike Lee and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker for their roles as changemakers who are carrying forward Parks’ legacy. The Foundation also gave a special tribute to Cora Taylor, who was recently identified as a subject of one of Parks’ best-known images from his 1956 Life magazine essay documenting segregation in the Jim Crow South.
The event brought together approximately 500 guests from across the fields of art, film, philanthropy, journalism, and business. The evening raised over $2.2 million to support year-round educational programming and The Gordon Parks Arts and Social Justice Fund, which provides fellowships, prizes, and scholarships to the next generation of artists, writers, and students whose work follows in Parks’ footsteps.
Performances by Black Thought of the legendary Roots Crew, opened and closed the evening, which also featured a live auction of photographs by Gordon Parks. Additionally, photographer and 2017 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellow Devin Allen took the stage to reflect on the importance of the fellowship program in championing individuals who share the foundation’s commitment to advancing Parks’ vision for social change, recognizing the 2022 recipients in attendance: artists Bisa Butler and Andre D. Wagner, and author and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood, the inaugural Genevieve Young Fellow in Writing.
If you’re on to see Black Thought in his natural element, this weekend, June 4 and 5, Black Thought and the Roots roll out the red carpet to friends and fans as they host the Roots Picnic this weekend a few miles south on I-95 in their hometown of Philadelphia. The sick lineup includes Jasmine Sullivan, Mary J. Blige, Summer Walker, Rakim and many more during the two-day festivities at the Mann, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Tickets are available at ticketmasters.com.
Time to get prayed up!! Buffalo and Texas. We with y’all. Over and out, holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.