movie Video

Choice of Weapons


Gordon Parks' Farm Security Administration photos

Givens Collection
Givens Foundation

previousChapter Five
Chapter Five

Among all the great writers in pantheon of African-American literature, a lesser-known author stands out for his range of creativity and his commitment to community. Gordon Parks, sr. has had considerable impact on America. He was the first black photographer for Life Magazine. ParksHis photojournalism on a vast range of people, places and issues gave the world a better understanding of itself. He was the first African American to make a Hollywood film when he wrote, produced, and directed "The Learning Tree." He is also a gifted composer writing, songs and musical scores. John Wright states that Parks’ path is, "an eclectic career, and a career that moves in so many directions that it's difficult to comprehend." To begin to comprehend his impact, one need only open the pages of Parks’ books. They are poignant testaments of his life and his art. It is in this literature - his novels, poems and autobiographies - that one appreciates the impact of Parks’ art.

Like too many of today's young people Parks' youth was filled with challenges. Writing his autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree forced Parks to relive these experiences. "Writing any memoir is painful," Parks acknowledges. "It has its beautiful moments as well but you go back to those days when, you lost friends. I had three friends all killed by violence. And they were guys you loved. But you know you have to write about that. So I just wrote The Learning Tree with an honesty, and that's the book, in spite of all the other books I've written, that are probably better written but The Learning Tree hangs in there as a best-seller."

Parks first autobiography, A Choice of Weapons tells the story of the obstacles he faced as a young adult and how he resisted taking up knives, guns and other weapons. Instead, he aimed a camera at America and captured the beauty and pain of a nation struggling with racial and economic injustices.

Choice of Weapons

A Choice of Weapons has quietly become a guide for young people seeking a positive path. From Juvenile corrections facilities to high school classrooms, Parks’ story continues to be a beckon of hope for youth. Parks is proud of the book as a real and honest testament to hope. "I'm especially proud of the reaction I get from that book" Parks admits. "Kids have an out. If you want to really go for it, you can go for it. You don't need the gun, the knife, to do it. You can do it with your pen or your computer, you can do it with a paint brush and so forth. You can be heard, and heard a lot longer and a lot stronger, if you use the right weapons. And those are the weapons that I have chosen." Parks ability to transcend the pain and prejudice he lived through and his resolve to counter it become clear in the book’s compelling conclusion of the autobiography.

My experiences had left me scarred and angry at times, but now I was bringing my hopes back to the shadowy ghetto, to see if they would take root in the asphalt of the city streets, would sprout in the smoke and soot, grow in barren days and nights-and at last know fruition. If so, the hunger, hardship and disillusion would have served me well. My mother had freed me from the curse of inferiority long before she had died by not letting me take refuge in the excuse that I had been born black. She had given me ambition and purpose, and set the course I had since traveled...I didnŐt know what lay ahead of me, but I believed in myself. My deepest instincts told me I would not perish. Poverty and bigotry would still be around but at last I could fight them on even terms. The important thing was the choice of weapons with which to fight them most effectively.

        -Gordon Parks, A Choice of Weapons

movieLiterature And Life: The Givens Collection - Full Show


Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: The learning tree / Gordon Parks.
Published: New York : Harper & Row, c1963.

Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: A choice of weapons / by Gordon Parks.
Published: New York : Harper & Row, c1966.

Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: A choice of weapons <sound recording> : readings by Gordon Parks from his book.
Published: <New York?> : Scholastic Records, c1970.

Author: Tidyman, Ernest.
Title: Shaft / by Ernest Tidyman.
Published: New York, N.Y. : Macmillan, c1970.

Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: Gordon Parks: a poet and his camera; preface <by> Stephen Spender, introduction <by> Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.
Published: London, Deutsch, 1969 <i.e. 1968>

Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: To smile in autumn : a memoir / Gordon Parks.
Published: New York : Norton, c1979.

Author: Parks, Gordon, 1912-
Title: Voices in the mirror : an autobiography / Gordon Parks.
Published: New York : Doubleday, 1990.

Author: Northrup, Solomon, b. 1808.
Title: Twelve years a slave. Narrative of Solomon Northrup
Published: Auburn, Derby and Miller; Buffalo, Derby, Orton and Mulligan;1853.

Title: Half slave, half free <videorecording> / A presentation of American Playhouse.
Published: <S.l.> : Xenon Home Video, c1991.

previousChapter Five