Multitalented movie director, photographer, and writer Gordon Alexander Parks (1912–2006) was born on this day in rural town of Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of 15 children.
His childhood marked by poverty, he left home following the death of his mother in 1928. "Everyone is worth something," he believed and dedicated his life to challenging stereotypes while making a difference.
In 1948, he became the first black staff photographer for Life magazine and for over 20 years his unique, "photo essays" captured politics, poverty, and civil rights in America.
About his cruasade against social injustice, he said: "I suffered first as a child from discrimination, poverty ... So I think it was a natural follow from that that I should use my camera to speak for people who are unable to speak for themselves."
In 1969, as Hollywood's first black director of a major feature film, he adapted The Learning Tree from his autobiographical novel. The title was based on his mother's life metaphor about learning from people with both good and bad fruit.
He followed that with the blockbuster hit Shaft (1971), about the "ultimate in cool" Harlem detective. Parks crafted Shaft into a heroic role model for other African Americans.
"I had a great sense of curiosity and a great sense of wanting to achieve," Parks said.
Parks searched his soul through poetry and memoirs. He helped establish Essence magazine, played the piano with passion, and composed orchestral scores. His life was a testament to reaching and achieving.
In a 2000 interview, he said, "I think most people can do a whole lot more if they just try."
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