Film to tell how WSU won Parks collection

Wichita State University fought hard to land the Gordon Parks collection, against some of the most formidable libraries in the nation.

This Thursday, that story will be told during the premiere screening of "Roots and Branches: Preserving the Legacy of Gordon Parks." The 50-minute documentary will be shown at 7 p.m. in Devlin Hall.

The documentary was written, filmed and edited by WSU's media resources department and tells the story of how Parks' collection was acquired.

"One of our biggest pushes to the Parks foundation and his family is that by having this collection in Kansas, it was going to be a big deal," said Ted Ayres, vice president and general counsel at Wichita State. "It was going to get a lot of attention, care and love. We felt we could showcase his talent. He is uniquely Kansan."

Parks rose from extreme poverty and segregation in Fort Scott to become one of the 20th century's most distinguished artistic icons. He died five years ago today in his apartment in New York City. He was 93.

The documentary is the third segment in WSU's Gordon Parks Lecture Series, held each year in March to commemorate his life. Past events in the series have included a panel discussion of Parks' contribution to film and his impact on Hollywood, and an evening with Bobbi Baker Burrows, the photo editor at Life magazine who worked with Parks.

"We hope to keep these series going year after year," Ayres said. "Gordon's career — his creative abilities, everything he worked on through his poetry and writing, his photography, his leadership in the area of civil rights, his music — is lots of fertile ground for continued series."

In 2007, WSU bid against some of the nation's most formidable libraries — including the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress — to house Parks' memorabilia.

The collection includes a draft of "The Learning Tree," Parks' autobiographical novel; his honorary degrees; manuscripts for his books "A Hungry Heart: A Memoir," "Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography" and "Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks"; the shooting script for the motion picture "Shaft"; family photographs; letters from Gloria Vanderbilt and Ethel Kennedy; and his high school yearbook.

Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott.

When he was a boy, he and his family were forced to live in an all-black neighborhood and he attended an all-black school. The memories of those days gave him a hatred of Kansas that he struggled with almost all his life. It also shaped his art, which showed both the depths of poverty and discrimination and the lives of the famous and powerful.

Toward the end of his life, he reconciled that hatred.

"Those 15 years he spent in Kansas shaped him," Ayres said. "He has many lessons to teach us. He is certainly somebody who we can be proud of that is a Kansan. He sets such a wonderful example, particularly to young people, about overcoming adversity and recognizing the importance in education and respecting his fellow man."