Unpublished LIFE images by Gordon Parks are powerful look into America

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As the first black man hired full-time by Life magazine, Gordon Parks wanted to find and photograph all 11 of his classmates from grade school as a way of measuring the impact of school segregation. The photo essay he created was never published. Now it is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the exhibition, “Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott,” beginning Jan. 17.

Gordon Parks hadn’t been to his hometown, Fort Scott, Kansas, in more than 20 years when he returned there in 1950 as a photojournalist. Growing up as the youngest of 15 children, Parks attended the Plaza School, an all-black grade school in the heavily segregated town. The images he took reflect white society at the time. They humanize race relations. They show us we are equal, that color doesn’t make the difference, character does.

If you can get a hold of the movie A Raisin in the Sun, with Sydney Poitier for a portrait of a black family during the same time period Parks took the Life images. It’s well worth the time seeing it.

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