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Gordon Parks Gives Collection of Photos To Hometown Community College

Gordon Parks Gives Collection of Photos To Hometown Community College

Gordon Parks, the Fort Scott native who gained international fame as a photographer, author and filmmaker, has donated 30 of his photographs to the center bearing his name at Fort Scott Community College.

The donation was announced in October by Jill Warford, executive director of the Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity at the college.

The announcement came during the annual Gordon Parks Celebration of Culture and Diversity. Parks, now 92 and living in New York, attended the first culture and diversity event a year ago.

“My gift makes my hometown of Fort Scott the largest repository of my work,” he said in a statement.

Another 51 of Parks’ photographs, plus 13 poems, are displayed at Fort Scott’s Mercy Health Center.

Warford says only a few people knew of the donation before the October announcement.

“It was like Christmas, pulling them out of the box and unwrapping them,” says Kari West, community relations director at the college.
The collection is valued at more than $250,000. Among the photographs is “American Gothic,” perhaps Parks’ best-known image. The picture he took in 1942 shows Ella Watson, a Black woman who mopped floors at the Farm Security Administration’s building in Washington D.C., standing in front of an American flag, stern-faced, with a mop in one hand and broom in the other.

Parks once said it was the first professional image he made, done on his first day in Washington. He said he was amazed at the bigotry and discrimination he encountered in the nation’s capital.

Most of the newly donated photos are black and white, and they include a striking photo of a sweating Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion; one of actress Ingrid Bergman; and one of a boy with a junebug.

“It’s a huge gift,” says Warford. “It’s a great collection for an educational institution.”

The luncheon was part of a campaign to raise money for a $5 million fine arts center at the school. So far, about half the funds needed for the center have been raised. Once it’s completed, the Parks photographs will be put on permanent display. Until then, they will be displayed in the college library on a rotating basis.

Parks left Fort Scott when he was 15, angry at the way Blacks were treated in the racially segregated community. He became a photographer for Life magazine, and also did work for Vogue and many other publications.

He has published nearly 20 books. He turned one of the books, The Learning Tree, into a movie filmed on location at Fort Scott in 1968. Three years later he came out with “Shaft,” which became a hit, later followed by “Shaft’s Big Score.”

— Associated Press

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