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Friends, family remember Gordon Parks

‘He was larger than life,’ said former New York Major David Dinkins
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gordon Parks was remembered Tuesday for using his many talents — Life photographer, filmmaker, music composer — to emphasize human dignity and teach that “to stand and be counted was the way to be.”

“He was larger than life and made us all feel larger by just being in his company,” former Mayor David Dinkins said of Parks, who died March 7 at age 93. “He earned his place in history and in our hearts.”

Parks was the first black photojournalist on Life magazine’s elite staff and a trailblazing filmmaker, with “The Learning Tree,” “Shaft” and other black-oriented movies among his credits.

A poem written by Parks and three of his musical compositions were performed at Tuesday’s memorial, attended by about 2,000 people. A cello and piano duet presented the mournful “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings.

“How generously he shared his rich gifts with us,” said the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., pastor of Riverside Church.

Parks’ commitment to documenting poverty and racial injustice was a recurring theme at the service, with the pastor noting that “grief will not be the order of the day.”

“He taught us that to stand and be counted was the way to be,” singer-actor Avery Brooks said.

“Shaft” producer Joel Freeman and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt also eulogized Parks.

Vanderbilt said she and Parks met on a Life photo assignment. “He had the greatest gift of all, the ability to love without fear,” she said.

Family members said Parks will be buried near his parents in Fort Scott, Kan., where he grew up the youngest of 15 children.