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University of Chicago to name building in honor of Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

By Frederick H. Lowe
Special to the Trice Edney Newswire from

The George Lucas Family Foundation, named in honor of George Lucas, the filmmaker who made the science fiction classic “Star Wars,” and his wife, Mellody Hobson, have donated $25 million to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for construction of a building that will be named in honor of African American filmmaker, photographer and writer Gordon Parks.

The building, scheduled to open in 2015, will be named the Gordon Parks Arts Hall, and it will be located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood on the city’s South Side, University of Chicago officials announced today.

Hobson, a Chicago business executive, said it is important that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color. Parks died in 2006.

The hall will support programs in theater, music and visual arts with three new performance halls, studios, rehearsal and practice rooms, a digital media lab and more.

“This generous grant will amplify the role of arts within the core of distinctive education offered by the Laboratory Schools, and create new opportunities for imagining the role of arts within the curriculum,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are private, co-educational day schools.

Parks was Life magazine’s first African American photographer

Parks moved to Chicago in 1929 when he was 17. In 1948, he became Life magazine’s first African American staff photographer. Parks, however, was best known for his filmmaking. His movies included “Shaft,” which was about a Black private detective named John Shaft. Isaac Hayes provided the thumping sound track for the 1971 hit movie. Hayes won an Oscar for best song.

Parks also directed a made for television movie that received little attention at the time. He made “Northup’s Odyssey,” in 1984, starring actor Avery Brooks. The film was based on Solomon Northup’s memoir “Twelve Years a Slave.”

British filmmaker Steve McQueen re-made the film and called it “12 Years a Slave.” McQueen had big-bucks backing from Hollywood and support of Tinseltown royalty in the form of Brad Pitt. McQueen’s film won and several awards, including best picture, at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Hobson is president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based investment firm serving individual and institutional investors.

In December, Lucas and Hobson donated $25 million to Chicago’s After School Matters, a program founded by Maggie Daley, the now deceased wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The well-respected program supports the educational development and opportunities for lower-income Chicago public school students.

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