1912 - 1952

Additional chronology in progress


  • Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Ft. Scott, Kansas on November 30, 1912, the youngest of 15 children.


  • Receipts begin for multiple payments made on a piano by Sarah Parks through 1925 – Parks begins to learn piano during this period.


  • Parks graduates from the ninth grade out of the segregated school he attends with 11 other classmates at Plaza School in Fort Scott, Kansas.
  • In the fall, he begins attendance at the integrated high school in Fort Scott.


  • At 16, Parks’ mother dies on May 9, 1928.
  • Parks goes to live with his sister, Maggie Lee, and brother-in-law in St.Paul, MN in the autumn.
  • Parks enrolls at the Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul
  • Parks gets a job as a waiter at a diner
  • Parks is thrown out by his brother-in-law days before Christmas (according to memoirs)
  • Parks begins to ride train cars between St. Paul and Minneapolis to stay warm while school was on holiday (according to memoirs)
  • The owner of the diner Parks was working at gets arrested on Christmas Eve, Parks goes to the pool hall in St. Paul he frequented for warmth and gets offered a job to play piano at a brothel Minneapolis (according to memoirs)

1929 - 1932

  • Works as a waiter
  • Writes “No Love” on piano, has it played on the radio.
  • Joins up with Larry Funk’s orchestra. 


  • According to A Choice of Weapons  - March 4, 1933 (the day FDR was inaugurated), Gordon comes to Harlem/New York for the first time, while travelling with an orchestra that immediately disbands upon arrival.
  • Parks marries Sally Alvis.
  • April, 1933, Parks joins the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in Fort Dix, NJ and worked at planting trees and clearing camping grounds and beaches with the Federal Youth Employment Agency.


  • July 1934, Parks ends his time working with the CCC and then returns to Minneapolis, MN for two years. 


  • Begins working for the Northern Pacific Railroad as a porter/waiter.
  • Gordon Jr. born

“Of course, I didn’t start photography until about 1939 and up until that time I had worked as a waiter on the railway, bartender and road gangs, played semi- professional basketball, semi- professional football, worked in a brick plant, you name it, you know, just about everything”  (from 1964 Oral interview – here he states that it was 1939 that he saw the Panay  gunboat reel)


  • December, 1937 visits Art Institute of Chicago during a train layover, goes to a movie theater where they screen the sinking of the U.S.S. Panay in a newsreel.
  • When the train continues onto the end of its line in Seattle, Parks buys his first camera, a Voightlander Brilliant and shoots photographs by the Puget Sound.
  • Parks still living in Minneapolis, gets his film developed at an Eastman Kodak shop where he impresses the shopkeeper. As a result, they let him exhibit his work on 5th Street in Minneapolis, eventually.  (Timing??)
  • Parks gets fired after a fight with his racist boss on the Northcoast Limited right around Christmas.


  • Starts working for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, between St.Paul and Chicago.
  • Parks tours the House of David semi-professional basketball team for three months plays the All Americans (and wins once) and Harlem globetrotters.


  • Is photographing for the St.Paul Recorder/Spokesman-Recorder newspaper in St. Paul
  • Photographer for St. Paul Y.W.C.A. and the International Institute


  • Daughter, Toni Parks, born 
  • Begins shooting photography for Frank Murphy’s Town and Country Department store in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Friend, Harvey Goldstein, at the University of Minnesota, “used to sell or give all of us young photography aspirants film and cameras to work with.” He does this for three years. “Showed them in Mannheimers and Hershville in St. Paul.” (oral interview 1964)
  • Meets Marva Louis, wife of boxer, Joe Louis  and takes her portrait. She convinces him to go to Chicago where he first joins the community at the South Side Arts Center there.
  • Starts photographing for various local newspapers.
  • "Pictures and story, St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 4, 1940 
  • Wins Blue Ribbon award at American Negro Exposition, held at the Coliseum
  • Has three solo shows in St. Paul and Minneapolis



Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks, teenage years, circa late 1920s

Gordon Parks, ca. 1927.

Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks with Hercules Brown and family, Somerville, Maine, 1944

Cecil Layne, Gordon Parks in front of YMCA, Harlem, New York, 1943



  • In the spring and fall, holds two solo exhibitions at South Side Community Art Center, presenting pictorial, fashion, and commercial photographs
  • Illustrated article, "Chicago's New South Side Art Center," by Dr. Alain Locke (of Howard University), September edition of Magazine of Art, 1941, the American Federation of Arts publication
  • Photographs Eleanor Roosevelt at an opening event at the South Side Arts Center in October, 1941 for Crisis.
  • Chicago Tribune,"November 9, 1941, "Our Town"
  • Photographed fashions in Chicago and in his free time, photographed poverty in Chicago’s South Side. These images of Chicago’s South Side were what he was granted the Rosenwald Fellowship for.
  • Other single cuts in various magazines, including an article by Vernon Winslow in Crisis, October, 1941.

“Well, actually, Jack Delano came to . . . whom I admired very much; a very good photographer — was in Chicago on the southside and on some sort of project. I can’t remember what it was. And he, too, saw some of my work. He was the one first who mentioned that if I got the Rosenwald Fellowship certainly they would be happy to have me down with the FSA. And I went around with Jack on several of his assignments; he took me around and naturally I was rather thrilled, for here was a photographer from FSA; and he was such a gentle and wonderful guy, and still is. And so that sort of set my sights and when the Rosenwald people asked me exactly what I wanted to do I said I would like to be with the FSA. I then boned up on it to find out exactly what was being done. And that was the initial interest.” (oral interview 1964)


  • Beginning of 1942, Parks is living in Chicago
  • At 29, Parks applies for Rosenwald fellowship by January 5, 1942 (period of grant allotment supposed to pass from May 1942-May 1943)
  • Advertisement for Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company
  • On application for fellowship states he has this upcoming exhibition: Chicago's Women's Aid from Feb. 7-15, 1942 with Langston Hughes "In this exhibit I will work closely with Langston Hughes, and we will attempt to work out a technique for taking the captions for the pictures from his latest book of poetry, "Shakespeare in Harlem." (pg 3 of application)
  • April 18, 1942 Parks is informed of his acceptance and receives a grant for $1,800.
  • May, 1942 Parks goes to DC for his fellowship at the FSA, one of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs meant to show the “Face of America,” Americans living during the Depression years in rural and urban areas. Parks mostly stayed in the Northeast, documenting New England, upstate New York, and DC. “They were making an indictment of America – the terrible mess that President Herbert Hoover had left.”
  • August, 1942, (contrary to Gordon’s accounts of January) Parks takes his famous portrait of Ella Watson, American Gothic, and follows her around for several weeks taking pictures of her at home, working, and at church.

“I took her into this woman’s office and there was the American flag and I stood her up with her mop hanging down with the American flag hanging down Grant Wood style and did this marvelous portrait, which Stryker thought it was just about the end. He said, “My God, this can’t be published, but it’s a start.” So it was published. I sneaked it out and published it in an old paper that used to be in Brooklyn. It was published in Brooklyn, you probably remember, what was it called? I forget, a Marshall Field paper, do you remember that one?” (Oral interview 1964) 

  • “What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and the bigotry, by showing the people who suffered  most under it.” (from “The Photographs of Gordon Parks, 1983.)
  • Parks experiences racism and segregation throughout DC, including in the cafeteria of the FSA  building, although Parks refuses to sit in a segregated area there.
  • John Vachon, one of the photographers with the FSA, becomes Parks’ closest friend (they go on to work together for the OWI and Standard Oil and Vachon briefly works at LIFE until he starts at LOOK)


  • Parks is asked by Roy Stryker to leave the FSA as it is being disbanded and absorbed into the Office of War Information and join the OWI.
  • Parks photographs the Tuskegee Airmen.
  • Featured in U.S. Camera magazine (with kind of degrading accolades)
  • July, 1943 Parks returns to Harlem to photograph Richard Wright for13 Against the Odds , Edwin R. Embree’s compilation of biographies about distinguished African Americans of the time. (AIC Invisible Man, p. 15)
  • August 1, 1943, Parks witnesses a riot outbreak in Harlem over the rumored death of a Black soldier at the hands of a white police officer (AIC Invisible Man p. 16 and A Choice of Weapons p. 241)


  • Son, David Parks, born. 
  • Goes to work for Standard Oil Company in New York to be a part of Roy Stryker’s team of photographers there. Standard Oil had started a public relations campaign based on offering free high quality photographs of the American landscape to magazines. Roy Stryker was hired to direct the photography department. Standard Oil had a bad reputation from muckrakers (journalists exposing corruption and social injustices in corporations/politics, etc.) in 1910 in McClure’s magazine. The photographs weren’t used very much because they were free. All they wanted was the Standard Oil credit line.
  • The Standard Oil executives wanted to publish a corporate book and Stryker had Parks doing the portraits. One of the executives discriminates against Parks but ends up hiring him to do a portrait of his whole family.


  • March 1945, receives telegram from John H. Johnson (of the published for Ebony, Jet Magazine, The Negro Digest etc. ) requesting negotiating price for Parks service on photo assignments, as well as inquiring as to how to get access to some of his Standard Oil photography.


  • While still working for Standard Oil, Parks buys a house in White Plains so his wife and children can move out from Minneapolis where they had been living with her father, so as to to be with him in New York. Stryker than lays him off.
  • According to Ebony July 1946 profile on Parks, “current exhibit at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago”


  • Shoots for various fashion magazines, including Circuit’s Smart Woman in NY (December 1947) where he does a photoshoot including his wife, Sally Alvis Parks.
  • July, 1947 Dr. Clark doll test story published in Ebony. Photos from Harlem psychological clinic.
  • Parks publishes his first book, Flash Photography on photo techniques. He had been sought out to do two books on photography techniques by Franklin Watts’ publishing house and was given a $1,000 advance, showing some of his work from Standard Oil and the FSA as part of his portfolio. Gordon chose some of the portrait subjects (i.e. Bob Flarity, Alex Leiberman, Tina Fredericks, etc.) and Mrs. Watts put in secretaries/friends from the publishing house, which Parks says “hurt the book.” Parks writes the text. He does not keep the negatives because at the time he did not think it was important to archive them.
  • Parks goes to Alex Leiberman’s office at Vogue and shows his work. Parks begins to freelance at Vogue.


  • Parks publishes his second book on photography techniques, Camera Portraits: The Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture.
  • Parks hired as a staff photographer at Life magazine.


  • Parks assigned to Paris for two years.


  • Dean Dixon conducts Parks’ “Symphonic Set” with the Venice Symphony Orchestra.


Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks and Flavio da Silva, Denver, Colorado, 1960

Photographer Unknown, Muhammad Ali, Gordon Parks, and others, Hyde Park, London, England, 1966

Photographer Unknown, Gordon Parks showing his camera to the Fontenelle Children, Harlem, New York, 1968

Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks at the March on Washington, Washington, D.C., 1963

Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks at a fashion photo shoot, New York, New York, 1954

Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks with Black Muslims, Chicago, Illinois, 1963