On assignment for Life magazine in 1956, Gordon Parks traveled to Alabama to produce an article about everyday life for Black people in the Jim Crow south. Parks ingratiated himself to four generations of the Albert Thornton family, photographing them in their homes and also in public places, where their freedoms were most curtailed. One of Thornton's daughters, Joanne Wilson, appears in this photograph with her niece.
Parks's article appeared in the September 24, 1956, issue. In response to the sympathetic treatment of the Thorntons, contrasted with the rather harsh light shined upon white Alabama, some members of the family quoted in the article, including Wilson's sister and brother-in-law, experienced harassment. A second Life article, "A Sequel to Segregation", that appeared in the December 10, 1956, issue, described how, with financial assistance from the magazine, urged by Parks himself, these family members relocated for their safety.
This photograph is not one of those reproduced in the Life magazine article. In fact, it was not known to exist until 2011, when nearly 50 transparencies from Parks's 1956 trip, wrapped in paper and marked "Segregation Series," were discovered in an unopened cardboard box in the archives of the Gordon Parks Foundation. They were then printed for the first time.
Joanne Wilson married the year this photograph was taken. After receiving a college degree, she taught high school economics and government in Prichard, Alabama, for 36 years. She died in 2015.