A Harlem Family, Gordon Parks, 1967. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

THe Fontenelle Family

In the aftermath of the LIFE publication, the Fontenelles were re-located to a residence in Springfield Gardens, Queens – funded by LIFE’s readership, who responded strongly to Parks’ series of images. Just months later, a Molotov cocktail destroyed the house, killing the head of the household, Norman Fontenelle and Kenneth Fontenelle, aged 9. Bessie and her remaining children returned to Harlem.

Bessie’s youngest son, Richard Fontenelle, gradually overcame the trials of poverty. He married and had four children, dying just shortly after Parks, at the age of 48. Richard was the only member of the original family to live past the age of 30.

“I often felt that I shouldn’t have touched that family. But I had gone looking for an answer and they had given it wholly, and with the loss of two lives.”

- Gordon Parks

Kenneth fontenelle, Jr. 

Richard’s son, Kenneth Gordon Fontenelle, is 24. He still lives in Harlem, just blocks away from the original street that Parks visited back in 1967. I found Kenneth via social media. 

He had never seen the images of his family before. 


Kenneth Fontenelle with a portrait of Gordon Parks, given to his father by the photographer. (c) Harriet Dedman 2016

The portrait of Gordon Parks, given to Kenneth's father, Little Richard, is stored in his current apartment. (c) Harriet Dedman 2016

Kenneth Fontenelle holds the brass cast of his grandmother's (Bessie Fontenelle's) first shoes. (C) Harriet Dedman, 2016