A new exhibit at The Museum of Fine Art Boston features Gordon Parks’ photo essay of my hometown, Fort Scott, Kansas, in a segregated 1950. One of the most celebrated African American artists of his time, this particular essay of Parks’ never ran, but his images and the story behind them have resurfaced after nearly 65 years in obscurity.
My great-grandfather’s Sinclair gas station can be seen in Parks’ image shown above, Untitled (Outside the Liberty Theater), 1950. This particular image was the one that MFA Boston curator, Karen Haas, stumbled upon that started everything…
(From The Huffington Post)
“The museum decided to do a rather major publication on our African American collections across all our departments,” Haas explained in a phone conversation with The Huffington Post. “I was asked to write the entries on the African American photographers because it was a particular interest of mine. One of the photographs by Gordon Parks was sort of a mystery — it’s simply titled ‘Outside the Liberty Theater’ and depicts a young couple outside a segregated movie theater. I contacted the Gordon Parks foundation and together we sorted out the fact that this was a photograph taken in Fort Scott, Kansas and related to a larger story that’s widely unknown because it was never published in Life Magazine. That’s really where it all began.”
“They’ve never been exhibited together before, many of them have never been shown at all. They’re completely unknown; the foundation didn’t know the picture, no one knew what it really was. It’s not that surprising that for a magazine photographer. Without that anchor to a story there’s no reason for them to see the light of day again. There was this trail, this little thread I was following to figure out the story from this picture.
The exhibition at MFA Boston runs through September 2015.
GORDON PARKS, UNTITLED (OUTSIDE THE LIBERTY THEATER), 1950
Photograph, gelatin silver print Sophie M. Friedman Fund Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation