How photographer Gordon Parks became an essential witness to the injustices of Jim Crow

When 29-year-old Gordon Parks arrived in Washington, in 1942, to begin his prestigious job as a photographer at the Farm Security Administration, his first assignment was to shoot: nothing. The government agency, which was born of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, had originally intended to highlight rural suffering and the plight of farmers, but that mission quickly expanded to producing a vast visual record of American life.

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