‘Segregation Story’ Exhibit Captures Daily Life in Jim Crow South

‘Segregation Story’ Exhibit Captures Daily Life in Jim Crow South

By Tanasia Kenney
* Written Feb. 10, 2015

ATLANTA — The High Museum of Art opened its doors to guests Sunday, Feb. 8 for the viewing of Segregation Story, an exhibit showcasing the photography of renowned photojournalist Gordon Parks.

The exhibition featured 40 plus photographs, which chronicled the daily life and struggles of the Thorntons, an African-American family living in segregated Alabama. Parks’ photo essay, originally titled The Restraints: Open and Hidden, was first printed in Life on Sept. 24, 1956.

Parks’ photos gave guests a peek into a very controversial and tense time in American history. Instead of simply capturing moments of the Civil Rights Movement, he followed a multi-generational family through the hardships of living in the unjust Jim Crow era. Parks used these photos to speak out against segregation and discrimination in the South.

“The family highlighted in the exhibit was one of resilience. No matter the hand they were dealt, they still found joy in being who they were,” said Toni Edwards, a student viewing the exhibit for the first time. “The family members seemed resourceful; they weren’t welcome in white barber shops so the men would use their living rooms or front porches as in home barber shops. They found a way to make the little bit they had work.”

Many of the photos displayed in the gallery have never been seen. According to a press release by the High Museum, The Gordon Parks Foundation recovered over 200 of Parks’ photos in 2012, thus completing the series. The museum will keep 12 of the color photographs showcased in the exhibit.

“This exhibit is provocative because it causes the viewers to put themselves in the photos, to think about how a country as rich in culture and capital as the United States could allow (and still does allow) so many of its citizens to be subjected to poverty and discrimination, at the hands of another,” said Anne Randolph Powell, public relations specialist for the High Museum.

A few key pieces featured in museum were Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama (1956), Department Store, Mobile, Alabama (1956) and Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia (1956).

Tanneka Hylton, another patron visiting the museum Sunday, recalled a particular photo from Segregation Story that stood out to her.

“There was one photo that showed a family at a segregated water fountain near a storefront, and the children were not wearing shoes despite wearing pretty dresses,” Hylton said. “A family friend was wearing shoes that didn’t fit. This spoke to the socioeconomic disparities that were so present between blacks and whites in the South during that time.”

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was an American photojournalist, writer, musician and filmmaker. Parks picked up photography because he saw its potential to be a “weapon for social change.” Parks was the only African-American working for Vogue in the early 1940’s and then became the first African-American staff photographer hired to work for Life in 1948. He went on to co-found Essence in 1970, where he also served as editorial director. Parks is best known for directing the 1971 blockbuster Shaft.

“I would definitely come see more of Parks’ works if the High were to feature him in the future,” Zachary Myles said. “The ethnic and racial disparities in his photos were striking.”

Gordon Parks: Segregation Story runs through June 21, 2015.  For more information on this exhibit, visit www.high.org.