Signs in the windows of a Marcus Garvey club in the Harlem area
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Gordon Parks photographed a handful of images outside the Marcus Garvey club, but this shot is the only one that shows details of the actual space. In the window display, one can see articles, full publications, and a prayer for the president. Most prominent, however, is the portrait of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, orator and creator of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. As the head of the UNIA-ACL, he encouraged people of African origin to return to their homelands to redeem the countries by removing all Euro-centric white influence. While not all black leaders at the time agreed with him, his speeches and writings influenced many future leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Marcus Garvey passed away in 1940, but his influence was still felt in Harlem in 1943, when Parks made this image. Earlier that year, on assignment for the Office of War Information, Harlem had captured Parks' heart, so much so that he moved to the neighborhood in 1947. Parks' 1948 photo story on a Harlem gang leader is what earned him a job at LIFE Magazine, where he would go on to produce some of his best-known work.
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Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, writer, and film director. His best-known work was in documentary photojournalism, consisting of images he made in the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1970s, focusing on issues of civil rights, poverty, and the lives of African-Americans. His work as a photographer and filmmaker was barrier-breaking: he was the first African-American photographer at LIFE and Vogue, and one of the first African-Americans to produce and direct major motion pictures such as Shaft.
Parks was born in 1912 into a poor and segregated life in Kansas. Drawn to photography after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine, he picked up a camera from a pawnshop and taught himself to use it. Despite a lack of formal training, he was hired by the Farm Security Administration. It was there Parks developed his style, creating powerful images that explored the socioeconomic impact of racism.
After the FSA closed, Parks worked as a freelance photographer, shooting for both fashion magazines and photographing humanitarian issues. He was hired at LIFE Magazine, where he would remain for twenty years and for whom he would create a wide range of iconic images. Many of these photographs became symbols of activism, rallying support for the growing Civil Rights Movement, which Parks believed in deeply and documented often.
Over the course of his career, Parks won numerous awards, gained over fifty honorary doctorates, directed several films, and wrote a best-selling novel. He continued photographing until his death in 2006.
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