(far end) and Bobbi Baker Burrows, director of photography at LIFE Books, sign books for audience members following a panel on Parks' legacy at the Gordon Parks Museum in Fort Scott Oct. 6. Other panelists included David Parks, son of Gordon Parks, and local historian Arnold Schofield. Museum Director and celebration director Jill Warford was also on hand.(Ruth Campbell/Tribune)
Local historian Arnold Schofield, Life Books Director of Photography Bobbi Baker Burrows, and Parks' son and daughter, David and Toni discussed the late Fort Scott native's talents, attributes and what he was like as a father during "1912-2012-The Legacy of Gordon Parks" at the Gordon Parks Museum on the Fort Scott Community College campus Saturday.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Parks, a photographer, filmmaker, author, musician, writer and composer.
Burrows said Life staff still ask for Parks' photos and they are used over and over again. She would ask him to write introductions to various Life books and he would tell her he didn't know if he'd have time, but later in the evening, she'd hear the whir of a fax machine letting her know Parks' assignment was coming.
"Everything he wrote was perfect," Burrows said.
She'd often find herself discussing world events with Parks late at night and into the wee morning hours and he would often be inspired by them. "He was always so concerned about what was going on in the world. Sometimes he had to write immediately," Burrows said.
She noted that stories about a certain gangster or the riots in Harlem would not be the same if told from a perspective other than Parks'. His photos of life in that area of Manhattan in 1964 showed the world what was going on there. "It opened our eyes to so much. We wouldn't have had all those stories if Gordon hadn't pursued his dreams. ... He was unique in that way.
"No one else could have done what he did with those stories," Burrows added.
Panelists noted Parks was always available for young people.
Toni Parks said she's working on a play for children about her father's life at Gordon Parks Elementary School in Kansas City. She just recently read one of his autobiographies, "Choice of Weapons."
She told a story of how he liked dressing in Saville Row suits. He was in London when Muhammad Ali had a bout there and Ali told Parks he wanted to dress like him and asked Parks to take the pugilist to his tailor. "I want to look like you," Ali told her father.
She said he got his sense of refinement by working as a busboy at a Minnesota men's club during the Depression. It also gave him access to a fine library.
After reading "Choice of Weapons," Toni Parks was somewhat overwhelmed by all her father had experienced. "... I never really sat down and talked to him about it. I guess it was just too close," she said.
David Parks said he never "really had a normal conversation" with his father growing up. He and his siblings spent time with Parks, but it was in the context of helping him with his work or being around other people with Parks.
The last eight weeks of Parks' life was the most time David said he ever spent with his father. Parks would often ask David, weeks later, what he thought of a comment he night have heard during conversations his dad was having with others.
Schofield told the story of a young German man working for a company printing a five-volume set of Parks' collected works in cooperation with the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, N.Y. The young man was bicycling across the U.S. and came through Nevada and Fort Scott. He saw the sign that notes this is Parks' home town and stopped at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce where he heard about the museum.
"He said he had no idea Gordon Parks was from Fort Scott until he saw that billboard," Schofield said.
Museum and celebration director Jill Warford, who moderated the panel, said the museum will receive a set of books when they become available.
Last year, the celebration was reduced from three days to two due to funding constraints, but it has worked out well, Warford said. Unofficially, the celebration started last Thursday with the museum hosting the weekly chamber coffee. She estimates 400-500 people attended, including good turnouts for the kids' workshop on Saturday and the Tribute dinner, which was held in the lobby of the Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center for the first time.
"We had a lot of people in Saturday who just came in for the afternoon. They didn't necessarily go to the tribute dinner Saturday night," Warford said, adding she may try advertising more in the Kansas City area next year.
"We've talked about different weekends because we do compete with other things," but most times, there is something going on in Fort Scott, she said.
1. "Smugglers"-Keiji Fujimoto
2. "Survivors"-Mike Gullett, of Pittsburg
3. "Survivors-Dhaka"-GMB Akash
* Honorable Mention: "Sarajevo Twenty Years Later"-Keely Kernan
* Honorable Mention: "Transformation"-Benjamin Rusnak
* Honorable Mention: "Winners"-Mike Gullett, of Pittsburg