Harlem, 1943-1944 - Photography Archive - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Marcus Garvey Follower, New York, New York, 1943

When Parks received a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation in 1941, the foundation’s president, Dr. Edwin Rogers Embree, was writing a book on exceptional African Americans. Embree gave Parks a list of 13 distinguished Black Americans to photograph. The individuals named on that list would be the subjects of Embree’s heralded book 13 Against the Odds, published in 1944. One of them was Richard Wright, whose novels and short stories about the plight of African Americans were central to discussions of race relations in the mid-twentieth century. 

Parks met Wright in Harlem in 1943, bringing with him a copy of 12 Million Black Voices, a book pairing images by such Farm Security Administration photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans with Wright’s work. The author inscribed the book for Parks, citing one of the photographer’s favorite passages: “To one who moves with the new tide.”

In addition to a striking portrait of Wright, Parks took an array of photographs in Harlem during the months bridging 1943 and 1944. He often approached his subjects from below, placing the buildings that framed their lives as backgrounds rising behind them, and attempted to catch people looking askance in ways that suggest resilience.