Parks intended his autobiography to be an inspiration to young people in general and to young African Americans in particular. His message might be summarized as “there is hardly anything you cannot accomplish if you try hard enough.” He records the important incidents of his long, eventful lifetime as illustrations of the ways in which success can be achieved by a person who is motivated to succeed and not afraid of occasional failures.
One of the themes recurring throughout Parks’s autobiography is that of white racism. Every time he faced a new challenge in his life, he was met with reminders that African Americans could not expect the same opportunities as whites. Parks steadfastly refused to listen to words of discouragement and tried many things that African Americans had never tried before. He was the first African American to achieve success as a fashion photographer, the first African American photographer to work for Life, and the first African American to direct a feature film for Hollywood.
Parks knew many of the most prominent African American revolutionaries of the turbulent 1960’s, including Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. He never, though, subscribed to doctrines of armed rebellion or separatism, because his life experiences had shown him that although the doors of opportunity might have been closed to African Americans, they certainly were not locked and bolted. He repeatedly states and illustrates that no race has a monopoly on bigotry or injustice. He found too much friendship and encouragement from members of other races to be able to believe that African Americans were faced with nothing but prejudice and hatred.
Parks regards himself as living proof of his message that bigotry is motivated by...
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Parks’s photographs, paintings, poetry, books, musical compositions, and films met with critical acclaim throughout his multifaceted career. Voices in the Mirror was no exception. Critics were practically unanimous in calling it an interesting book because it was expertly written by a man who was himself his most fascinating character. Critic Phoebe-Lou Adams called Parks’s autobiography “a superb example of what talent, courage and determination can accomplish against odds.” Michael Eric Dyson’s review in The New York Times commented that “through the power of his words, this intelligent and sensitive interpreter of human experience has now turned the mirror toward us as well as himself; we, like Mr. Parks, must be judged by the integrity of our response to what we hear and see. Let us hope that we are half as successful as he has been.”
Parks’s autobiography demonstrates to readers of all races that African Americans have no reason to feel inferior to anyone. Even the most bigoted reader is forced to acknowledge that Parks’s record of successes in a wide variety of difficult endeavors has been rivaled by few whites. Parks writes from an elevated standpoint; his own life is proof of the principles he preaches.
For African Americans, Parks’s message is clear. Even the most disadvantaged has no cause to despair; the doors of opportunity can be forced open if one is willing to work hard, to learn the skills needed for success, and to refuse to be intimidated by hostility, ridicule, or rejection. Above all, Parks’s autobiography demonstrates that young African Americans can accept any challenge life has to offer and can share equally in the cultural riches of the entire world.