National Geographic : 1989 Aug
On Assignment HEN BRIAN LANKER set aside duties as contribut ng photographer for Sports Illustrated and Life to pursue his own dream of record ing the achievements of black women, he could not foresee that he would become close friends with many of them. Rosa L. Parks (right), whose defiance of segregation in Ala bama sparked the civil rights movement, returned from her home in Detroit to Montgom ery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, scene of bus-boycott planning. "It was very moving to be with her," Lanker says, "and to realize the far-reaching effects she had on all of us." The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, a resident of Eugene, Oregon, had spent months drawing up lists of potential subjects. When he tried to research them in black studies sections of libraries, he found that "some of the women PHOTOGRAPHSBY FRANKATURA (ABOVE); BRIANLANKER I knew to be notable had little representation. You soon realize who wrote the history books. It wasn't women." Colleagues helped him scan newspapers and search files at the Schomberg Center for Re search in Black Culture and at Time, Inc., in New York City. Many women recommended other individuals who might have been overlooked. "I was interested in each person's childhood and family," he said, describing his approach to the interviews. "I discovered a world of wit and wisdom and philosophies of work and life. Many of the women grew up in strong, sup portive families with the black church playing a major role." During his research he became familiar with Maya Angelou's many talents: author, actress, movie director, and Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest Univer sity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (left). Her autobiogra phy, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, had been nominated for a National Book Award in 1971. Lanker was elated when she agreed to write the foreword for his book (page 208). The outpouring of generosity from all the women was wonder ful, Lanker recalls. "Their great est lesson to me was this is not only black history, this is my his tory, this is American history." NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC(ISSN 0027-9358) IS PUBLISHEDMONTHLYBY THENATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY,17THANDM STS.N.W ., WASHINGTON,D. C. 20036. $21.00 A YEAR,$2.65 A COPY. SECOND-CLASSPOSTAGEPAID AT WASHINGTON,D. C., AND ELSEWHERE.POSTMASTER:SENDADDRESSCHANGESTO NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC,P. 0. BOX 2174, WASHINGTON,D. C. 20013.