Two of “the greatest” American heroes, Gordon Parks and Muhammad Ali, came together in 1966, and again in 1970, and shaped a nuanced photographic portrait of the controversial champion for Life magazine during the civil rights era.

Engage with Park’s photographs, create your own photo story, and continue the vital conversations featured on this focus page which expands on the in-gallery exhibition, Gordon Parks x Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, 1966/1970.

Banner image: Unknown maker. Untitled, London, England, 1966 (detail). Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

A Deeper Look

Discover the story behind Gordon Parks’s humanizing portraits of Muhammad Ali in this online exhibition, organized in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation.


As you navigate the online exhibition, refer to the Exhibition Guide to analyze some of Parks’s pivotal artistic decisions in key photographs.

View Guide

A Talk with Gordon Parks

Listen to Gordon Parks’s public talk at the Nelson-Atkins in 1994, as the artist reflects on growing up in Kansas, facing racism, and his determination to turn his frustration into creation.

Gordon Parks with students at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art lecture, 1994

Parks, Gordon. Lecture in conjunction with the exhibition “Songs of My People,” introduced by Michael Cheers. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, March 26, 1994.


Black Athletes, the Media, and the Champ

What did Muhammad Ali symbolize during his early, controversial career? How did the mass media attempt to shape his public image, and how has this legacy informed the actions of contemporary black athletes? Join April M. Watson, Curator of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins, for a lively conversation with Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports at the National Museum of African American History, and William Rhoden, former New York Times sports columnist and author, as they discuss these fascinating topics.

Middle School Summit

Students from four Kansas City-area middle schools came together in February 2020 to take part in a two-day summit about history, photography, and identity focused on the exhibition Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, 1966 / 1970. Students considered the power of photography to communicate identity and developed relationships through interviews and discussion with one another, educators, artists, and curators.

Students had the opportunity to create their own self-portrait collage. They also were paired with a student from a different school to interview and photograph, and then introduce their “subject” through the photojournalism project.

Participating Schools

  • Center Middle School, Kansas City, Kansas
  • Eisenhower Middle School, Kansas City, Kansas
  • Lincoln College Preparatory Academy Middle School, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri

Hosts, Curators & Speakers

  • School & Educator Programs team, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • April M. Watson, Curator, Photography, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Ray Doswell, Vice President of Curatorial Services, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
  • Will Toney, photographer and mixed media artist


Photojournalism 101

Is there someone you want to know better? Inspired by Gordon Parks, follow the steps in this activity to play the role of photojournalist and learn someone else’s story.


Organized in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, the Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion, exhibition features approximately 55 photographs, many never seen before in public.

Gordon Parks, American (1912–2006). Untitled (Champburger), Miami, Florida, 1970 (detail). Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, anonymous gift, 2019.14.12. Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

This exhibition is accompanied by the publication Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali, published in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation and printed by Steidl. The book includes a foreword by Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins, and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.; and essays by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gerald Early, and April M. Watson.

View Exhibition