By Mark McNease
I had the pleasure of meeting Maurice at this year’s Rainbow Book Fair – and now the double pleasure of asking him ‘6 Questions.’ His book, Businessman First, tells the story of Henry G. Parks, Jr., a successful African American businessman. Maurice was as nice and engaging as his book is fascinating – a story that both needed to be told, and that Maurice promised to tell. He has, in spectacular fashion.
MWD: QBR The Black Book Review, the Harlem Book Fair are partnered by the Columbia University, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library, Literacy Partners, Inc. and C-Span Book TV. The Harlem Book Festival is the largest and most respected African American literary festival. I was recommended by a friend in Washington, DC.
MM: You’ve written a biography of Henry G. Parks, Jr. For people who aren’t familiar with him, can you say who he was and what he accomplished?
MWD: Henry G. Parks, Jr. was born in Atlanta, GA, raised and educated in Dayton, OH, employed briefly in NYC and in 1951 opened the H. G. Parks, Inc. trading as Parks Sausage Company in an alley in Baltimore, MD. Starting with nothing, he created and built a multimillion dollar industry and was one of the most successful African American businessmen of his time. He was the first African American to issue stock publically on the New York Stock Exchange. He was also elected for two consecutive terms to the Baltimore City Council and served on the board of directors of several leading corporations bridging relationships between the black and white communities during the civil rights era. In later years he was often called a marketing genius.
MM: You mentioned to me at the recent book fair we both attended that you had promised Mr. Parks you would tell his story. How did that happen?
MWD: Mr. Parks and I were great friends. There was a 30 year difference in ages. When he was suffering and dying of Parkinson’s Disease, he said to me, “Maurice, I need fifteen more years.” In a moment of deep compassion, I replied: “Don’t worry Henry. I will write a book about you.” The promise I made to him stuck in my head for 25 years until I finally sat down and honored my promised to a dying man.
MM: What are some of the things you most want readers to know about Henry G. Parks, Jr. – what made him exceptional?
MWD: More importantly, what Henry G. Parks, Jr. wanted the reader to know was that African Americans can compete and succeed in the world of business on the same terms as any other groups. What I want the reader to know is the same thing. Henry’s dream is being realized. He was an exceptional man who fought hard for success against racism, segregation, discrimination, prejudice, and homophobia.
MM: This is your first book. How did that come about, and will you write a next one?
MWD: Yes, this is my first book. I was not trained or educated as a writer but I think most African Americans can tell a story of life in the United States and I hope more people will tell their truth to the world. Yes, I am in the process of writing a second book. The working title is: Mother’s Boy, A story of being Catholic, African American, Gay, and Unwanted. [Awesome title, by the way – Mark]
MM: You’ve had quite a career, culminating in your retirement from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. A friend of mine uses the word “renaissance” instead of retirement. How are you finding this period in your life, and what plans do you have for yourself?
MWD: This is the happiest period of my life. My dad taught me to always be grateful. Gratitude is my daily pray. I am grateful most for those closest to me who have not wished me well. This is where I have gotten resolve. I have loved long term twice and would like to love again, until the end.