Reviews: ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story’ at the High Museum of Art and ‘Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott’ at the Museum of Fine Arts

March 4, 2015 2:27 AM

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Reviews: ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story’ at the High Museum of Art and ‘Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott’ at the Museum of Fine Arts

While looking at the “ Gordon Parks : Segregation Story” exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta, I overheard an elderly white docent standing in front of a 1956 picture of a Dairy Queen in Mobile, Ala., explaining to a cluster of African-American schoolchildren the significance of the two water fountains, one labeled “White Only” and the other “Colored Only.” When the picture ran in the Sept. 24, 1956, issue of Life, it was intended to show the magazine’s 20 million weekly readers the realities of contemporary black life in the Deep South; now the picture is evidence of a painful history so alien the details have to be explained. Gordon Parks would be pleased—pleased there are no more segregated water fountains, and pleased his photograph still has utility.

Parks (1912-2006) was a complex, high-voltage sort of a man who before he died had distinguished himself not only as a photojournalist, but also as a fashion photographer, a composer, a writer and a movie director. He was born in Fort Scott, Kan., the youngest of 15 children; his father was a tenant...

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