About this artwork
Gordon Parks relocated from Minnesota to Chicago’s South Side in 1940, immersing himself in the local art community while operating a portrait studio out of the South Side Community Art Center. In 1941 he was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship for a portfolio of photographs he created on the South Side; the award gave him the means to move east to Washington, DC. By 1948 Life magazine hired him as its first African American staff photographer.
In 1963 Parks returned to Chicago on assignment for Life to report on the Nation of Islam, newly headquartered in the city. Parks gained unprecedented access to this radical civil rights movement through his friendship with Malcolm X, who arranged a meeting with Elijah Muhammad, the group’s leader, so that Parks could obtain permission to proceed with the story. Parks spent weeks with the Black Muslim community, documenting a range of its activities—from self-defense training to religious services led by Malcolm X.
Parks’s photo-essay ran in the May 31, 1963, issue of Life, along with an essay by Parks that reflects on his dual status as insider and outsider. The text begins with his return to Chicago after nearly a decade and his memories of “the hopelessness that seeped into the black souls of that jungle.” Parks goes on to describe his current position: “I was a Black Man in White Man’s clothing, sent by the very ‘devils’ [Elijah Muhammad] criticized so much… . I wondered whether or not my achievements in the white world had cost me a certain objectivity.” He concludes, “I sympathize with much of what they say, but I also disagree with much of what they say… . Nevertheless, I acknowledge that the circumstance of common struggle has willed us brothers.”
- Currently Off View
- Photography and Media
- Gordon Parks
- Malcolm X Holding up Black Muslim Newspaper, Los Angeles, California
- United States
- Made 1963
- Gelatin silver print
- 34.4 × 23.5 cm (image); 26.6 × 35.4 cm (paper)
- Anonymous Gift