This week I did a little research for a future date night that Mike and I do at least 3 times a year: Valentine’s/Anniversary (often one over the other), his birthday, and my birthday. I tried to find a restaurant with a tasting menu. The only one I could find had a 4-course that was strictly for Valentine’s weekend. I mourned the good old days in Chicago when we had too many places to choose from for seasonal 10-course meals that showcased the chef’s changing creativity with a personalized menu to take home as a souvenir.
Then we enjoy another Fun Friday like today, and my silly little lament turns to enduring joy. I would trade in all those fancy pants, overpriced dinners for this 9-day compressed work schedule that gives us over 20 day dates a year. We stopped at the mall (what a GOOD husband!) and then headed to the Richard Levy Gallery downtown. This little gallery on Central is currently exhibiting a collection of photographs by Gordon Parks called the Segregation Series.
On assignment for Life Magazine, Parks spent several weeks in Alabama following the Montgomery bus boycott. The Gordon Parks Foundation found a box of previously unpublished photos from this trip that have resulted in this current portfolio. It only took a short 10 – 15 minutes to see the dozen pictures, but the images were long in their impact. They were produced in color which is rare for pictures from that time period (1956). Viewing the images in color seemed to remind us that the Jim Crow era was not the long ago history we often see in black and white, but rather the uncomfortably close days of our parents’ time.
It never fails to amaze me that we as a people can reduce our fellow human beings in such humiliating and at that time socially acceptable ways. To think that a separate entrance or drinking fountain was normal and not detestable will never lose its horror even in our present time of progress. One picture showed African American children on the outside of a fence looking at the Caucasian families playing in a playground. Seesaws were in the foreground and the white children were in bumper cars by a ferris wheel. It may or may not have been intentional, but the picture next to it showed black children playing in a muddied puddle on a dirt street. The juxtaposition of these images almost produced tears in this mother’s heart as the layers beneath these 2-dimensional images surfaced.
When I gazed at the older couple on their couch, I wondered what was behind each fine line on their stoic faces? What did they witness, experience, and endure? What did the generation pictured and framed behind them also live through? Was their portrait one of a time of slavery like this one was of segregation? Does the current generation of Thornton’s have a portrait now and what differences and similarities exist? Thankfully times have changed, but unfortunately the ramifications are not easily resolved nor completely removed.
We left the gallery and walked a short section in that area where time stands still even as the most progressive parts of town coexist beside. We went on to a healthy, delicious lunch at Vinaigrette where I was reminded that good food is not as far away as Lake Michigan. Mike even humored me with a macaron pick up from The Grove for dessert. We enjoyed running errands and the overall relaxation of a day off together.
The pictures stayed with me and I looked up more on Gordon Parks after we returned home. He was a photographer (the first African American to work for Life Magazine), composer, writer and film director. He directed the original Shaft (SHAFT!) and became the first African American to write, score and direct a Hollywood film. He photographed what he lived through having gone to a segregated school in Kansas. He and those like him were discouraged from higher education to the point that he recalls a teacher telling him college would be a waste of money for him. Yet despite the barriers, he accomplished so much in his life until his death at age 93 in 2006. He was just one of many who labored alongside Dr. King in the fight for Civil Rights. His work continues to live on, and locals can see it in person at the Levy Gallery until March 1.