Through his distinctive lens, barrier-breaking photographer Gordon Parks visually captured the essence of the Black experience in America. He created works that illuminated moments of Black joy and resilience amid marginalization. A vast collection of photographs taken by the visionary will live at Howard University.
The HBCU acquired 244 images from The Gordon Parks Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Kansas-bred photographer’s legacy through exhibitions, literature and multimedia projects. The foundation also leads arts education programs aimed at inspiring generations of creatives.
The collection of captivating photographs encompasses imagery captured across five decades, with photos dating back to the 1940s leading up to the 1990s. The images—some of which were taken early on in Parks’ career, making the acquisition historic—reflect a multi-generational cultural journey.
The visual capsule features vintage portraits of Black residents in Chicago and Minneapolis. It also includes photographs of African American luminaries who shaped the arts, like visual artist Margaret Taylor Boroughs, actress Hilda Simms, singer and actor Robert Todd Duncan and music conductor Charles Dean Dixon.
With images that give a glimpse into the lives of Black Americans during the Jim Crow era, the photo collection underscores Parks’ mission to use his artistry to expose and amplify the ugly truths surrounding racial injustice in America. Candid portraits of transformative civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael shine a light on visionaries who had a deep passion for social change. Other individuals included in the collection, who used their craft to shift the culture, are Spike Lee, Iman and Miles Davis.
“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks,” Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick shared in a statement. “Mr. Parks was a trailblazer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans, especially during the civil rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who viewed his work. Having a collection of his timeless photographs in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will allow Howard University faculty, students and visiting scholars to draw on his work and build upon his legacy of truth-telling and representation through the arts.”
Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., who serves as Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation, added, “Gordon embodied the many values that Howard University stands for, making it a fitting home for engaging with one of the great chroniclers of Black American life.” Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will house the collection. The foundation plans to work with the HBCU to cultivate programming inspired by Parks.
News about the acquisition comes months after Howard University was awarded an endowment for digitizing its Black Press Archive.