Gordon Parks and an unidentified girl in the late 1990s at a showing of Parks' work at the Ulrich Museum on the WSU campus.
Photo: Courtesy
Wichita State chosen to receive Gordon Parks Papers
Feb 7, 2008 2:34 PM | Print

The Gordon Parks Foundation in Chappaqua, N.Y., has accepted a proposal from Wichita State University to receive the collected papers of deceased photographer, author, filmmaker, composer and Kansas native Gordon Parks.

"Gordon would have been very pleased to know that his papers will reside at Wichita State University," said Peter Kunhardt, president of the Gordon Parks Foundation. "Under the leadership of Ted Ayres, a comprehensive plan is now in place to permanently place his personal papers and make them available to the public."


Gordon Parks

Once Wichita State receives the 140 boxes of Gordon Parks' manuscripts, photos, letters and other papers, University Libraries Special Collections staff and a full-time graduate assistant will devote countless hours to sorting and cataloging the materials.


Plans call for Wichita State to hold, curate and display Gordon Parks' materials for the public good. In addition to displaying artifacts in special exhibitions on campus, WSU also will find ways to integrate the materials into the educational programs of the university.


Ted Ayres

"The papers of Gordon Parks will be a featured attraction of the department of Special Collections at WSU," said Ted D. Ayres, vice president and general counsel. "We do not intend for the boxes to be set aside in storage. We will begin to review, organize, catalog, prepare and make the materials accessible to faculty, researchers, students, citizens, writers, family members and friends as soon as possible."


After an estimated two years of fully processing the materials, Special Collections expects to publish an online guide, or finding aid, describing the contents of the Gordon Parks Papers. In addition, Special Collections is planning to undertake the following programming:

  • An exhibit of Parks' materials
  • A digital exhibit of selected materials on Special Collections' Web site
  • Visits by students from Wichita State classes, local schools and community groups
  • Cultural programs for the university and the community highlighting the collection

Wichita State President Don Beggs said, "We are intent on honoring and preserving the legacy of Gordon Parks, and we believe these materials will be an additional asset that we can use to meet our intent. Our efforts will not be limited to these materials, but rather the materials will extend our reach."

Reginald L. Robinson, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, said, "I want to express my most enthusiastic support for Wichita State University's proposal to house Mr. Parks' papers. The university's curatorial expertise and reputation are very strong. In addition, I think it would indeed be fitting that his most precious papers reside ultimately in the state where he chose to reside upon his death. I have no doubt about the commitment of Wichita State University to hold, catalog and exhibit those papers in a manner that would reflect the utmost credit upon Mr. Parks and provide a mechanism for building on his truly remarkable legacy."

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchannan Parks (Nov. 30, 1912-March 7, 2006) was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director. He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life magazine, his many books, including "The Learning Tree," and as director of the 1971 film "Shaft."

The youngest of 15 children, Parks was born into a poor, black family in Fort Scott, Kan. His mother, a staunch Methodist, was the main influence on his life, refusing to allow her son to justify failure with the excuse that he had been born black, and instilling in him self-confidence, ambition and a capacity for hard work.

Parks received the President's Medal from WSU in 1991.

"We are very hopeful that the university's acquisition of the Parks papers is not the end but a beginning, the initial building block of an ongoing and synergistic relationship with the Parks Foundation to carry out Mr. Parks' wishes and dreams of the future," said Ayres.

For more information, contact Ted Ayres, (316) 978-3001 or ted.ayres@wichita.edu, or Peter W. Kunhardt, (914) 238-6800.
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Created on Feb 7, 2008 2:34 PM; Last modified on Mar 12, 2008 9:59 AM
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