March 16 – Freedom of Information Day

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

Freedom of Information Day is observed today to honor James Madison, who was born March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia. Madison is widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution and was the 4th President of the United States. He was a leading proponent of openness in government. The Freedom of Information Act, which took effect on July 4 1967, was enacted to promote transparency in government, but the idea of openness and inclusion can pertain to all aspects of society and relationships.

Today we remember all those who work to provide free and honest information and portrayals of government as well as other conditions and situations around the world.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Jamey Christoph


When the 15th child of the Parks family is born, he has neither a heartbeat nor a name. But the doctor is able to revive the nearly dead infant in an ice bath, and the appreciative mother gives her child his name—Gordon. Gordon Parks’ dramatic entry into the world may have given him the unique perspective he used in becoming a renowned photographer and the first black movie director in Hollywood.


Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2015, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2015. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Gordon rides a horse across the wide open fields of Kansas to school, but once there his prospects narrow with a white teacher who tells her all-black class that their education will go to waste as they are destined to work as waiters and porters. When he is 14 Gordon’s mother dies, and Gordon moves to Minneapolis. He soon must make his own way, and he finds jobs as a busboy, a piano player, and the predicted waiter and porter.

At the age of 25 Gordon reads about the plight of migrant workers and, inspired, buys a camera. Gordon has discovered his natural talent—a unique eye on the world. After only a month he exhibits his photographs in a camera store and is soon engaged in fashion and portrait photography. His work takes him to Chicago, where he documents the struggling families living on the South Side and wins a job with the government in Washington DC. Encouraged by his boss to find a subject for his work, Gordon focuses his lens on the black families living in the back alleys and in the shadows of the Capitol’s great monuments.


Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2015, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford 2015. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Through his photographs Gordon vows to expose the racism blacks face in housing, shops, restaurants, and other institutions. Looking for a personal subject, Gordon talks to Ella Watson, a cleaning lady in his office building. Ella supports five children on only $1,000 a year and knows hardship. Gordon accompanies her and her grandchildren, taking pictures wherever they go and of whatever they are doing. They become the inspiration for his greatest work.

Over his lifetime Gordon Parks will break barriers in the publishing and entertainment industries, becoming the first black photographer for Vogue and Life magazines and the first black director in Hollywood. He writes novels and poetry and composes music. But the work that becomes his most famous is a photograph of Ella Watson standing in front of the American flag, with her broom in hand. Called “American Gothic,” this picture fulfills Park’s determination to expose segregation and the hopes of all people struggling under its inequality.


Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2015, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2015. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s portrayal of Gordon Parks’ life is as starkly revealing as her subject’s photographs. With her writer’s skills, however, she deftly contrasts the facts of his life and turns his story into a universal metaphor for freedom and the struggle to attain it: “When young Gordon crosses the prairie on horseback, nothing seems beyond reach. But his white teacher tells her all-black class, you’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know?” Weatherford’s pacing also adds to the story’s power. Although Parks attained wide acclaim, this biography ends with one of his earlier photographs—a picture of Ella Watson, a cleaning lady, who inspired Parks and came to symbolize the hopes of her generation and beyond. This is not only Parks’ story, but the story of millions of others.

Jamey Christoph continues and strengthens the metaphorical force of this biography in his illustrations. Readers first see Gordon Parks as a much-loved, smiling infant. He goes to school and grows up, his expression changing, slightly but importantly. He acquires his camera, and the pages are filled with drawn representations of his black-and-white photographs. Alternating dark and light pages further emphasize Parks’ world. The darkroom contrasts with Parks’ new bright office and prospects; the shadowed back alleys of Washington DC contrast with the city’s gleaming white marble monuments. Later photographs are also depicted, and “American Gothic” is represented on two pages. Christoph provides readers with much to see and ponder.

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807530177

Freedom of Information Day Activity

CPB - New Professionals Picture

News Professionals Clothespin Figures

Make one of these clothespin figures that honors the men and women who work to keep the world informed.



  1. Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
  2. Cut out the clothes you want your journalist or photographer to wear
  3. Wrap the clothes around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
  4. Tape the clothes together
  5. Cut out the camera
  6. Tape one end of a short length of thread to the right top corner of the camera and the other end of the thread to the left corner. Now you can hang the camera around the figure’s neck.

Idea for displaying the figures

  • Attach a wire or string to the wall and pin the figure to it
  • Pin it to your bulletin board or on the rim of a desk organizer


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