Gordon Parks

Director, Photographer, Screenwriter
With significant accomplishments to his credit as a photographer, journalist, filmmaker, screenwriter, novelist, poet, composer and librettist to his credit, Gordon Parks may well be the African-American Renaissance man ... Read more »
Born: 11/30/1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas, USA


Actor (12)

Rosenwald 2015 (Movie)


An Unlikely Weapon 2009 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Shaft 2000 (Movie)

Lenox Lounge Patron (Actor)

Lincoln 1992 - 1993 (TV Show)


Martin 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)


Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)


50 Years of Action! 1985 (Movie)

Himself (Actor)

Malcolm X: Make It Plain (TV Show)


Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (TV Show)

Director (6)

Solomon Northrup's Odyssey 1984 - 1985 (TV Show)


Leadbelly 1975 (Movie)


The Super Cops 1972 (Movie)


Shaft 1971 (Movie)


Shaft's Big Score 1971 (Movie)


The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)

Music (3)

Shaft's Big Score 1971 (Movie)


The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)

songs("My Baby's Gone") (Song)

The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)

Writer (2)

The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)

(Source Material (from novel))

The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)

Art Department (1)

Malcolm X 1992 (Movie)

Malcolm X photos provider (Props)
Producer (1)

The Learning Tree 1969 (Movie)



With significant accomplishments to his credit as a photographer, journalist, filmmaker, screenwriter, novelist, poet, composer and librettist to his credit, Gordon Parks may well be the African-American Renaissance man par excellence. He has won over 20 awards and received 23 (as of 1995) honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters. Parks is reputed to be Hollywood's first black director of major films but he first gained acclaim as a preeminent photojournalist at LIFE magazine from 1948-68. His subjects included such diverse topics as the black Muslims, Ernest Hemingway's Paris and life in American ghettoes. "The Learning Tree", Parks' autobiographical novel about growing up black in 1920s Kansas, provided the foundation for his moving, sometimes didactic and stunningly photographed 1969 feature debut which he produced, wrote, directed and scored.


Jackson Parks


David Parks


Sally Alvis

married in 1933 divorced in 1961

Elizabeth Campbell

married in 1962 divorced in 1973

Sarah Parks

died c. 1928

Leslie Parks

mother, Elizabeth Campbell

Gordon Parks

mother Sally Alvis born c. 1935 films include "Superfly" (1972), "Thomasine and Bushrod" and "Three the Hard Way" (both 1974) killed at age 44 in a 1979 airplane crash outside Nairobi, Kenya while scouting locations

Toni Parks-Parsons

mother, Sally Alvis

Genevieve Young

married on August 26, 1973 divorced in 1979 of Chinese-American ancestry


educated in public schools in St. Paul, MN

dropped out of high school when he became ill with malnutrition



Was subject of the HBO documentary, "Half-Past Autumn: The Life and Times of Gordon Parks"


Appeared in the documentary "Malcolm X: Make It Plain" on PBS's "The American Experience"


Provided the voice of Henry Highland Garnet for "Lincoln", a two-part, four-hour ABC documentary special about Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War


Provided photos of Malcolm for Spike Lee's biopic "Malcolm X"


Executive produced, directed, composed the score, served as librettist and keyboardist, and provided documentary photography for "Martin", a five-movement ballet inspired by incidents in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr; broadcast on PBS


Directed, composed the score, provided poems and appeared in "Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names", an autobiographical documentary special on PBS


Served as an informal consultant to director Steven Spielberg during the production of "The Color Purple"


Named to the NAACP Hall of Fame


Directed and composed score for his first TV special, "Solomon Northrup's Odyssey", a historical drama presented on PBS's "American Playhouse"


Published a collection of his poetry and photographs entitled "Moments Without Proper Names"


First film appearance, as a croupier in his "Shaft's Big Score"


Directed his commercial breakthrough feature, "Shaft"


Directed, produced, wrote and scored first feature film, "The Learning Tree"


Composed "Tree Symphony"


Became an independent photographer and filmmaker


Had his first novel published, the autobiographical "The Learning Tree"


Film debut, directed and wrote documentary short, "Flavio"


Began serving as a color and black and white consultant on motion picture productions in the USA and Europe


Composed his first "Piano Concerto"


Published first book, a non-fiction work entitled "Flash Photography"


Served as a correspondent with Office of War Information during WWII


First assignment as photographer of women's fashions for St Paul, Minnesota, store; worked as freelance fashion photographer in Minneapolis

Took up photography in the late 1930s

Joined staff of Life magazine as a photographer; became Life's first black staff photographer in 1952

Became first black photographer for Conde Nast's Vogue

Co-founded and served as editorial director of Essence magazine

Worked during the Depression for the Civilian Conservation Corps

Went to Washington, DC, where worked with Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration

From age 15 worked as a busboy in Chicago, dining car waiter, a piano player in a Minnesota bordello, a Harlem dope runner, a big-band singer and professional basketball player

Worked with Roy Stryker at Farm Security Administration

Worked as a photographer for Standard Oil Company in New Jersey

Bonus Trivia


Parks was awarded the first Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in Photography Award in 1942.


From PR from KCET Los Angeles for "Martin: A Ballet Tribute to Martin Luther King": "An accomplished self-taught pianist, he is the composer of "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra", "Tree Symphony", five piano sonatas (all performed in New York and Boston) and a work for piano and woodwinds."


Honored by the National Council of Christians and Jews in 1964.


Parks has been the recipient of numerous awards over the course of his long and spectacular career. A partial listing of the honoring institutions follow: Syracuse University School of Journalism (1964); Philadelphia Museum of Art (1964); New York Art Directors Club (1964, 1968); Frederic W. Brehm Award (1962); Carr Van Anda Journalism Award from the University of Miami (1964); Carr Van Anda Journalism Award from the University of Ohio (1970); named Kansan of the Year by Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas (1986); the 1972 Spingarn Award from the NAACP.


As of 1995, Parks had received 23 honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters. A partial listing of the institutions and the honorary degrees they granted follows: a degree from Syracuse University in 1963; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute in 1968; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Fairfield U and a doctorate from Boston U in 1969; a Doctor of Letters from Kansas State U in 1970; a Doctor of Humanities from St Olaf College in 1973; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Colby Coll and a Doctor of Literature from MacAlester Coll in 1974; a doctorate from Lincoln U in 1975; a Doctor of Humanities from Thiel Coll in 1976; a Doctor of Arts from Columbia Coll in 1977; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Rutgers U in 1980; a DFA from Pratt Institute Pratt Institute in 1981; a Doctor of Humane Letters from Suffolk U in 1982; a Doctor of Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Inst in 1984; and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Art Center Coll of Design in 1986.


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