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Parks, Gordon (30 November 1912–07 March 2006)  

Dennis Wepman

Parks, Gordon (30 November 1912–07 March 2006), photographer, writer, composer, and film director, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children of Andrew Jackson Parks, a tenant farmer, and Sarah Ross Parks. His mother died when Parks was fifteen years old, and he went to live with his married sister Maggie Lee in St. Paul, Minnesota, but after a few weeks he left her home because of a conflict with his brother-in-law. He supported himself with difficulty for a time, sleeping in trolley cars and working in a variety of jobs as a waiter, a janitor, and, though he had never had any musical training, playing the piano in a brothel. He remained in Mechanical Arts High School and, later, Central High, where he was captain of the basketball team, but left in 1928 before graduating. While Parks was working as a busboy in a hotel in 1930, a bandleader heard him playing and invited him to join his traveling group. He continued as the only African American in the all-white band until it reached New York, when the group dissolved, leaving him jobless. In April 1933 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose modest payment enabled him to return to Minnesota after a year and marry his sweetheart Sally Alvis. The couple had three children....