Gordon Parks Returns to Hero’s Welcome in Hometown
FORT SCOTT, Kan.
The town that wouldn’t let Gordon Parks sit with the White people when he was growing up made it up to him in a big way with a four-day celebration of his life.
In the downtown theater where, as a boy, Parks had to sit in the balcony with other Blacks, he ate dinner next to the governor of Kansas. Down front.
“Gordon, welcome to the front row,” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told the famed photographer at the Liberty Theater. The banquet was the culmination of the town’s first Gordon Parks Celebration of Culture and Diversity.
More than 200 people attended four days of lectures, panel discussions, movie screenings and reminiscing. The crowd included about a dozen members of Parks’ family who had come from several states and presented a bronze bust of him to the town’s Mercy Health Center.
“I have a strange feeling back here,” Parks said at the presentation. “I can’t explain it. It’s a strange mixture of the tragedies and the good things that happened here.” It was Parks’ first visit to his hometown in more than 20 years.
The 91-year-old Parks, still recovering from a hernia operation less than a month ago, defied doctors’ orders to attend the festivities. When he was told what the town was planning, he told family and friends: “I want to go home. They’re waiting for me there.”
That attitude was a change; Parks’ relationship with his hometown has been rocky.
Parks fled Fort Scott when he was 15, angry at a segregated town that treated its Black residents miserably.
“Anger made me more determined that I was going to make it in the world,” he said.
He certainly did, becoming, among other things, the first Black director of a major motion picture, “The Learning Tree,” which he shot in Fort Scott in 1968. He also was a staff photographer for Life magazine, Kansan of the Year, a composer and poet.
— Associated Press
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