Gordon Parks was a master of many arts: photography, film making, music and fiction. But the world almost missed the opportunity to experience and enjoy his major contributions.
Born on Nov. 30, 1912, to a family in Fort Scott, Kansas, that already included 14 other children, Parks was declared stillborn when his doctor couldn't detect a heartbeat. Thanks to another doctor who thought to immerse him in cold water, which got his heart beating, he survived.
Parks, who taught himself photography with a used camera he bought for $7.50, led a life filled with firsts and major milestones, including shooting for Vogue and becoming the first Black photographer at Life magazine, where for two decades he documented the civil rights movement, race relations and urban life in America.
He also was the first African-American to direct a film for a major studio when Warner Brothers produced the film version of his autobiographical novel The Learning Tree and later, Shaft, the first "Blaxploitation" action film.
His extraordinary talents were acknowledged with numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts.
Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. once described Parks as "the most important Black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will remain with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject matter."
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(Photo: BILL FOLEY /Landov)