In 1950, while working for Life magazine, Gordon Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas to photograph his classmates from the segregated Plaza School. Parks previously received a Rosenwald fellowship in 1942 to work at the Farm Security Administration. Known for his striking images that highlighted racial issues in America, Parks’ portrait of his former classmates offers a glimpse into the lives of African Americans on the cusp of the civil rights movement. Although the series was originally intended to be a Life cover story, the magazine never published the photographs, which were soon forgotten (you can read about another discovery of lost Parks’ photographs in a previous blog post).
An article in The New York Times details how the photographs were uncovered in the archives of the Gordon Parks Foundation by a curious curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The museum will be opening an exhibition of the lost photos on January 17. The photographs themselves depict intimate moments from the lives of Parks’ now-adult classmates, most who were struggling to survive under the burdens of racism and segregation. Accompanying the photographs are Parks’ own words, his notes possibly intended as an introduction in Life magazine. Although there is no official explanation for why the story never ran, the exhibit’s curator speculates the spread was too political and newsworthy for the magazine.