When Parks refers to his home town of Fort Scott, Kansas, he describes it as "always my touchstone, there had been infinitely beautiful things to celebrate—golden twilights, dawns, rivers aglow in sunlight, moons climbing over Poppa's barns, orange autumns. . . but marring that beauty was the graveyard where, even in death, whites lay rigidly apart from blacks."

Parks never forgot his roots, or the fact that he was a black man in a white man's world. Through his early work Parks managed to document what he refers to as the "heaven and hell" of Kansas, as well as the heaven and hell of different societies all over the world. Parks said it best when he wrote, "These images and words are a gathering of individuals, events, places, conflicts, and dilemmas that confronted me as I shifted from course to course in pursuit of survival."

When Parks returned to Fort Scott in 1949 for a LIFE assignment, he discovered some major changes: the segregated grade school had been abolished; blacks were now allowed to eat in white restaurants; and the high school was letting black athletes participate in sports. Otherwise, he says, "not much else had changed."