Gordon Parks’ courageous photography helped awaken America at the dawn of the civil rights era. He was a master at portraying people from every walk of life. For years, some of Parks’ most important early work seemed lost, but now a new generation of Americans can see it for themselves.

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In the summer of 1956, in the aftermath of the Montgomery bus boycotts, Life magazine sent a photographer to Alabama for an essay on segregation. The man who took these pictures was Parks, Life’s first black photographer, who saw his camera as a weapon.

“I see a poor child, distraught mother; it’s not important in that particular moment that I express my feelings, but it’s important that I let the world know what they are thinking and what they are going through,” Parks told CBS’ “Sunday Morning” in 1982. “And so I become an instrument for them. I think that’s what the camera does. It serves a purpose.”

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