Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks

A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks

Have you heard of Gordon Parks??

Gordon Parks is the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood film. The first African American hired by Life magazine as a professional photographer.  He paved the way and fought racism and poverty with a camera and created a lasting legacy with his photography.

Gordon Parks was born in Kansas in 1912.  He was poor but he didn't know it until his mother died and she arranged for him to go live with his sister in St. Paul, Minnesota when he was 16 year old.  He was thrown out of his sister's house (by her husband) at the end of the week, so he ends up homeless, hungry and cold, riding the streetcars all night for shelter and warmth.

Gordon Parks falls in love and fights to get an education.  He is a Renaissance Man and he writes songs, composes, plays the piano, and travels with a orchestra.  He travels to Chicago, Harlem, New York, Washington D.C. and many other places while the country is in the midst of a Depression.  Gordon is resourceful even when he has no idea where his next meal is coming from and he never gives up hope.  He walks away from danger when he can and fights back when he needs to.  And he buys a camera and teaches himself how to use it.

A Choice of Weapons is the chronicle of Parks life from age 16 (about 1928) through World War II in 1945.  Parks is a good writer and storyteller.  He communicates to readers what is was like to grow up black and poor in America.  He shares his struggles with homelessness, unemployment and racism.  He talks about how he tried to live up to his mother's values and advice on putting hard work above anger and hate, and how hard it was when people were trying to hold you down.

The only thing I missed in A Choice of Weapons was photographs.  I wanted to see some of the pictures he is famous for and photos of family.  Instead I had to do a search to find them on the web.

I have a personal connection to Gordon Parks.  My grandparents grew up in the same Frogtown neighborhood in St. Paul that Gordon Parks lived in when he moved to Minnesota.  I, myself have also lived in the Frogtown neighborhood and walked the same streets, even got married at a church there.  As I read the book, I could't help wondering if my grandparents and Gordon Parks ever came across each other in a street car or walking down the street.  Who knows?  Anything is possible.  My grandparents, were born of immigrants, and lived in the same Frogtown neighborhood all of their lives and Gordon Parks, transplanted from Kansas, struggled and moved and made a name for himself.  Gordon Parks succeeded and prospered against all odds.

A very important and moving Autobiography.