We are still savoring the comments visitors to the National Book Festival offered last fall while viewing sample photographs from our collections. This visitor’s comments seem particularly apt as we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month.
The commenter recognized the well-known subject of the photograph, educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune served as director of the Office of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration, where she helped coordinate projects to extend employment opportunities to African Americans.
The details mentioned by this visitor and others who viewed the photograph suggest that both Bethune, in the arrangement of her office, and Gordon Parks, in working with her to make this portrait, realized the power of pictures.
What do you see in the picture? Are there any details people might miss at first glance?
“In the photograph, you have a distinguished American, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. This is taken at Bethune-Cookman College by Gordon Parks. I am noticing the various photos on the wall (Madam C. J. Walker, Langston Hughes, Franklin Roosevelt).”
What do you think that the photographer was trying to show?
“Mr. Parks in his photograph shows the dignity of his subject, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.”
- View other photographs Gordon Parks took at Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University).
- View information about Mary McLeod Bethune and resources for researching her in the Civil Rights History Project oral history materials.
- View a select list of images of 20th Century African American Activists.
- View a set of photographs we have shared through the Library of Congress Flickr account: “Women Striving Forward, 1910s-1940s.”
- View previous “Words about Pictures” posts.