Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott focuses on a little-known photo essay about school segregation undertaken by Gordon Parks in 1950 for Life. Because it never appeared in the pages of the magazine, few are aware of this landmark story, which brought Parks back to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, more than twenty years since he left as a teenager and moved north to Minnesota after the death of his mother. The issue of segregated education was regularly in the news during the years leading up to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), and the state of Kansas was at the center of that debate. “Back to Fort Scott” was one of the earliest civil rights assignments given to Parks after he became Life’s first African American staff photographer, and it inspired him to revisit his own childhood and search for his classmates from the all-black Plaza School. Taking these striking portraits of his friends and their families as they recounted their life stories to him also motivated Parks to explore his own youthful memories of poverty and discrimination in his semi-autobiographical novel and film The Learning Tree.
Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott is published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and is organized jointly by Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation. The book includes an introduction by Isabel Wilkerson and an essay by Karen Haas.