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In 1950, the Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, to create a photo essay on segregation in American schools. Parks was the only African-American photographer on the staff at Life and he was no stranger to the subject. The youngest of 15 children born to a tenant farmer and a maid, he had attended the segregated Plaza School, where an all-black student body had been taught by an all-black faculty. For the young Parks this had seemed quite normal, as had the black Main Street that existed on one side of the railroad tracks and the white Main Street that existed on the other. But by 1950 this forced separation was starting to splinter and Kansas was at the centre of a growing national debate over segregation: in 1954 the Supreme Court decision, s, would order schools to desegregate, kick-starting the civil-rights revolution.
Though they were in the minority, other black photographers were capturing the movement, such as Louis Draper, LeRoy Henderson, and . Parks began working with the FSA in the 1940s, and eventually became the first black staff photographer at “LIFE” magazine. In 1956, Parks published an influential photo essay on segregation for the magazine, documenting a black family living around Mobile, Alabama, and their daily struggles in a “separate but equal” world.
A.M. Sands is an award winning filmmaker, with films receiving an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a San Francisco Film Festival Golden Gate Award among others. Her op-ed essay on segregation in the North recently appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe. Her television credits include Africans in America, the landmark PBS series on America’s journey through slavery; We Are Family, a WGBH and PBS documentary on life in lesbian and gay families; and Two Intimate Journeys, a WGBH documentary contrasting a feminist and a New Right woman.