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The Gordon Parks Collection

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Gordon Parks filming 'The Learning Tree', Fort Scott, KS, 1968

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) filming "The Learning Tree", Fort Scott, KS, 1968.

Photograph by Norman E. Tanis.

Born November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Parks overcame the difficulties of poverty, racism, and being poorly educated to achieve success as a photographer, writer, film director, and composer. His first professional endeavors were as a free-lance, self-taught, fashion photographer. In 1941 his photographs of the ghettos of Chicago earned him a Julius Rosenwald fellowship. This was followed by an apprenticeship with Roy Stryker in the Farm Security Administration in 1942. In 1948 Parks was hired as a Life magazine photographer, a position he held for over twenty years.

In 1963 Parks published his autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree. Translated into nine languages, this extremely popular work about a black family in 1920s Kansas, became the vehicle for Parks' directorial talents in 1968. This first film was followed by Shaft, Shaft's Big Score, and his most controversial work, Leadbelly.

Since 1947 Parks has also published numerous works of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. His second autobiographical volume, To Smile in Autumn, covers the years from 1943 to 1979. A third autobiographical volume, Voices in the Mirror, was published in 1990.

Collection #25

Parks, Gordon A. (1912-2006),
Collection, 1968-2004

.5 linear feet


A collection of photographs, biographical materials, posters, and other items pertaining to the career of Gordon Parks. The materials in this collection mostly concern two movies directed by Parks; The Learning Tree and Leadbelly. A checklist of Parks' published works held by Pittsburg State University is appended to this page.


Materials pertaining to The Learning Tree were donated by Gordon Parks and by Paramount Studios in 1969. Other materials in the collection were obtained by purchase and by gift from various donors at Pittsburg State University.


~ ~ See above ~ ~


The materials in this collection provide a limited view of the activities of Gordon Parks. The bulk of the collection consists of photographs relating to the film version of The Learning Tree. The collection is arranged in four series:

The Biographical Series includes information about Parks copied from standard reference works, a number of articles and clippings that date from 1968 to 2004, and portrait photographs of Parks.

The Learning Tree Series includes a script of the movie autographed by Gordon Parks. The photographs in this series include movie stills provided by Paramount Studios and numerous images of the movie's production during its filming in southeast Kansas. Also included are several related press releases from Pittsburg State University.

The Leadbelly Series contains an original advertising cut used by magazines and newspapers for promotional purposes and an original theater poster. Also included is an article by Barbara Kevles titled "The Marketing of Leadbelly," that discusses the history of the film and the controversy surrounding its advertisement in 1975.

The Miscellaneous Series includes dust jackets from two of Parks' published works and an exhibition announcement regarding Parks' photography.


Biographical Series

f. 1 Reference works
f. 2 Articles and Clippings, 1968-1970
f. 3 Articles and Clippings, 1976-1989
f. 4 Articles and Clippings, 1995-2004
f. 5 Portraits

The Learning Tree Series

f. 6 Movie Script, 1968
f. 7 Photographs - Movie Stills
f. 8-10 Photographs - Production Images
f. 11 Press Releases

Leadbelly Series

f. 12 Advertisement cut for magazines and newspapers
f. 13 Theater poster
f. 14 "The Marketing of Leadbelly" by Barbara Kevles, Cineaste, Fall 2003

Miscellaneous Series

f. 15 Dust jackets
f. 16 Exhibition announcement


Born Black f. 15
In Love f. 15
Leadbelly f. 3, 12-14
The Learning Tree f. 1-2, 6-11
Parks, Gordon A. (1912- ) f. 1-16
Tanis, Norman Earl f. 8-11

Selected local material

Links to related sites

Last Modified: Apr 01, 2008 - 15:26

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