A Segregation Story

By Hermella Tadesse

A Segregation Story

As art expresses an individual's skills, creativity and imagination, we fail to recognize that everything around us is art. The past, the present and all things to come is a form of art. The Gordon Parks Foundation preserves the work of Gordon Parks, an American photojournalist. During the 1940s, he would mainly document issues surrounding African Americans, civil rights and poverty. In September of 1958, a photo essay of Gordon Parks was published. It was titled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden”. According to the Gordon Parks Foundation, the photo-essay “documented the everyday activities and rituals of one extended African American family living in the rural South under Jim Crow segregation.” Parks had a collection of pictures in which he called the “Segregation Story”. Within that collection, there was a specific picture that stood out the most. Taken at the Airline Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia in 1956, Parks took a picture of an emotionless African American maid holding a white baby while sitting next to a very stylish white lady, who also seems to be stone-faced. But something I noticed was that the white lady was sitting one seat away from the African American maid. The relationship between the two ladies seemed to be nothing more than an employee and employer. As Parks was assigned to do an everyday life on one extended African American family, this was one of the pictures he captured. I was very intrigued and full of the question by this picture. Although segregation was very popular back then, it was intriguing how it was okay for the African Americans to raise and take of white people’s babies, but it wasn’t okay for them to use the same facilities or even water fountains as the whites.

The visual elements come together to emphasize the two ladies and the baby. The picture itself looks very vintage. The color turquoise stands out a lot as it is on the chairs, the white lady’s necklace, and the walls. In addition, the baby’s clothing is a very light blue color, so that goes with the theme. Aside from that, the people in the pictures are either wearing black or white clothing items. The turquoise color is very vibrant compared to the colors surrounding it.

As for the focus of the picture, a couple of things are blurry. The African American lady and the white lady are very focused, therefore you are able to see their expressions very clearly. Although the ladies’ faces are clear, the baby, on the other hand, came out blurry. But I believe that maybe Parks intended for that to happen. He wanted the focus to be on the ladies’ facial expressions. That is the main attraction to the photo. Aside from that, the people in the background can’t really be seen.

The content of the picture, as I’ve previously explained, is consisted of two ladies with inexpressive emotions on their faces. As the black lady, who appears to be a maid is taking care of the white baby, the white lady sits one chair away from the African American lady and stares off into a distance. There isn’t much happening in the picture. But, aside from the date this picture was taken, the setting in which the picture was taken shows segregation. I say that because the room in which the two ladies are waiting in is filled with nothing but white people. And the one black lady that is there is the maid, in which case she’s on the job.

In conclusion, Gordon Parks captured this photo in the midst of documenting the everyday activities on an extended African family. One thing that I still question is the fact that during the time of segregation, white people were okay with African Americans raising their babies, yet using the same facilities and water fountains as the whites was a big deal. The main focal when it came down to color was turquoise. It seems to surround everything except the African American lady, as she is wearing white. The picture is an attention grabber.

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