Gordon Parks Elementary School students celebrated their namesake yesterday in a big way. David Parks, Gordon’s only living child, is in the area for the annual Gordon Parks Culture and Diversity Celebration in Fort Scott this week and is visiting schools while he’s here. David met GPES students to answer questions. “Was your dad rich?” “Do you visit his grave?” “Did your dad pray?” “What did you do with your dad when you were growing up?” “Where did you grow up?”' “Where do you live now?” “What was your mom like?” Such curiosity from the second and third graders. And of course, the inevitable: “How old are you?” David giggled before he admitted to being 75, which reminded me of the stories around his birth. It was World War II time, and Gordon was preparing to travel with and photograph Tuskegee Air Force pilots to their first overseas assignment. He loved the idea of being able to document this historic event, this group of exceptional pilots, who had this chance to serve their country as fully-recognized military personnel. Gordon trained with the pilots, donned a good looking Air Force uniform, and accompanied them during their flight exercises. Just as the group was scheduled to fly overseas, Gordon’s superior called him in and announced that his paperwork was not in order. He would not be able to accompany them to Europe. Gordon was horrified and traveled to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. to correct the problem. Everything seemed to be in order there, they said, but the truth soon was revealed. Southern lawmakers, who originally had approved the idea of commemorating this unique idea of training black pilots for battle, began to notice the newsworthiness that was going to come of this first time project. They quietly protested its completion. “Too much glory for blacks,” they would have said if they were being honest. Gordon was struck from the project and sent home. I’ve wandered a long way from David’s visit to the school, except to remember that David was born in the midst of Gordon’s wonderful opportunity being struck down—March, 1944. Gordon didn’t forget. In fact, he used this disappointing event to establish a timeline for the writing of his second book, Choice of Weapons in 1965, twenty years later. He would have said it was only one of the never-ending obstacles that he dealt with during his life, but I think it was one of the more painful times.
Fun Day at GPES
David Parks visits Gordon Parks Elementary School