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 1953 Life sent Parks to Chicago to do a story on the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, located at 2151 West Washington Boulevard on the city’s Near West Side. A white reporter accompanied Parks, but he made the mistake of keeping his hat on as he entered the church; the deacons viewed this gesture, in Parks’s words, as “another case of the white man’s disrespect” and asked Parks to continue alone. Life ultimately did not run the feature, but Parks was on record as both the photographer and the writer for the story.
In the unpublished manuscript written for Life, Parks described the church as “a temple of hope to thousands of Negro people caught in the backyard of this vast city. It is a haven in a world of unending trouble… . The church’s value in this situation is hard to measure, but to thousands of black voices that cry out within its porcelain-bricked walls it’s the “great home in the wilderness”… . In about 720 emotional minutes the church must repair the damage inflicted on its congregation during the preceding 156 hours. It must stoke-in enough of the goodness and patience to endure the coming week. It must quench the hot thirst for dignity and belonging, kill the urges to sin and make up for the pleasures that are denied.”
- Gordon Parks
- Pastor Ledbetter, Chicago, Illinois
- United States
- Made 1953
- Gelatin silver print, from the series "Metropolitan Baptist Church" (1953)
- 26.1 × 34 cm (image/paper)
- Anonymous gift