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Kirkus Review
A tribute to Henry G. Parks Jr., the man who created and built Parks Sausages (“More Park Sausages, Mom”) into a national brand, written by the man he befriended and mentored for 10 years.

Henry Parks, born in 1916, was raised in “the segregated North” in Dayton, Ohio. The prevalent bigotry and de facto separation of the races that marked most of his life form a running backdrop to the story of a man determined to succeed in business. Dorsey’s debut volume is the completion of a project begun by Parks himself and is the fulfillment of a promise Dorsey made when Parks selected him to write his biography. The author has waded through voluminous notes, newspaper articles, awards and reminiscences to present a portrait of a talented, innovative entrepreneur. In this aptly titled retrospective, the lion’s share of the narrative chronicles Parks’ wide-ranging business ventures and participation on the boards of many of America’s large corporations. It’s not until the final chapters that readers are given a glimpse into Parks’ personal life. Here, one can find hints of the complexities of a man who operated by a personal moral code yet formed a lifelong and profitable business partnership with a notorious Baltimore numbers runner; a man who assumed without question financial support for his family but spent little time with them and, in the end, would say that he loved his children but didn’t really know them; and a man who declared, “I am not a Negro businessman. I am a businessman who is Negro” but who was committed to raising the hopes and aspirations of young blacks. One can almost hear Parks instructing his young protégé to write a business biography. Unfortunately, the result contains many dry passages and occasionally tedious listings of accomplishments. Timelines jump back and forth as Dorsey attempts to organize the volume into conceptual rather than sequential chapters. Absolutely clear, however, is that the author has great love for a man who treated him as a son.

Offers insight into the 20th-century–African-American experience and a lesson in optimism.

Foreword Reviews

This hardworking, behind-the-scenes businessman is a voice of the civil rights movement that deserves to be heard.

Shedding light on an unknown pioneer of African American civil equality, this important biography details the life of an impressive subject. In Businessman First, Maurice W. Dorsey does justice to Henry G. Parks, Jr., an African American salesman born in 1916.

Through his dogged work ethic, shrewd business sense, and sheer determination, Parks built a hugely successful sausage company that never failed in his lifetime. But even as he leveraged his business victories into political and social action, Parks remained a background figure in the struggle for African American civil rights.

Though the book does not go into them in much detail, it is impossible not to be struck by the sacrifices Parks made. He ran his company’s public relations machine so skillfully that most of his customers never realized he was black, a fact that could have critically wounded his business. Parks also made other sacrifices: though he was unapologetic about his love for men, Parks never identified himself openly as gay or bisexual during his lifetime. Instead, Dorsey details Parks’s two companionate marriages and his silent agony over the death of the man he loved. The professional feats Parks achieved would have been remarkable under any circumstances, but it is his nearly superhuman personal resilience that makes him a truly impressive figure.

The author himself knew Parks very well, a status that many readers may envy. The book reflects Dorsey’s thorough interviews of his friend, and there are photographs and other material to illustrate the text. Unfortunately, the literary treatment of Parks’s life is direct and undramatic, and reads much like a list or résumé. Multiple consecutive sentences begin with “he,” for example, and go on to simply relate one of Parks’s accomplishments without much context or elaboration. This can make Businessman First a bit of a slog, but the subject matter consistently remains engaging enough to shine through the awkward writing style.

The nonchronological, subject-based structure of this book is slightly more problematic, contributing to some difficulty in placing major events in Parks’s life within the context of the civil rights era. A linear structure could enhance the mainstream appeal of this volume immensely. That said, Dorsey does a fine job beginning this story, and his research is invaluable. With hope, the record of Henry Parks’s quietly heroic life will not end here but continue to be explored.

In the fading wake of the civil rights movement, only the monumental characters, like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, tend to be visible, towering like skyscrapers over the horizon. Hardworking people acting behind the scenes can be lost to view and easily forgotten, except by their close friends and family. Parks is one of those civil rights beacons whose story deserves to be told.

Anna Call
June 9, 2014

 

Blue Ink reviews

Mr. Dorsey is not a writer, but he promised his friend and mentor, Henry G. Parks, Jr. – who died of Parkinson’s Disease in 1989 – that he would make a written record of his achievements: Among them, Parks was founder in 1951 of Baltimore-based Parks Sausage Company, member of the Baltimore City Council from 1963-1969, and a shining example of “a businessman who is black” (worded this way because Parks never wanted to be called “a black businessman”).

In that aim, the author has succeeded. He gives a roughly chronological account of Parks’ life, plus 25 pages listing honors, awards, donated historic photographs and other memorabilia. The prose is inelegant, the organization iffy, but Dorsey’s vast knowledge of his collaborator-friend is solid, and his too-far-and-few-between anecdotes about the man 30 years his senior are rich.

Anyone who grew up on the East Coast knows the slogan, “More Parks Sausages, Mom! Please!” Parks did not advertise the fact that the company was “Negro-owned” and sold his scrapple, sausage and other meat products widely from Virginia to Massachusetts. He built bridges between white-owned companies and black businessmen, and took the first African-American-owned company in the country public in 1969.

Family members or historians are the likely audience for this work, rather than general readers. But the author, a gay man who blossomed with the affectionate father figure he met through their college fraternity, does offer one revealing insight: Even though Parks was married for 15 years and had two daughters before his wife divorced him, the love of his life was another married man. How his secret life drove Parks’ success is unfortunately not addressed.

Now that Dorsey has fulfilled his promise, perhaps there is another, more personal book to be written — about his fond, unlikely friendship with the accomplished businessman who was African American.

Business owner defeats racial inequality, makes history
New biography highlights the life and times of Henry G. Parks, Jr.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Introducing the first African American business owner to issue stock on Wall Street: Henry G. Parks, Jr.
“Businessman First” by Maurice W. Dorsey captures the important achievements of “Mr. Parks,” an African American manufacturing business owner who built his company to a multimillion-dollar level during the 1960s when racial inequality was especially prevalent.
“A business man who manufactures pork products is not viewed as glamorous,” Dorsey said. “But Mr. Parks had a great vision, mission, goals, objectives, and more over, a great product.” This new biography is an answer to the lack of recognition of Parks’ journey to success in African American history. A joint project between the author and the subject prior to his death, “BusinessmanFirst” highlights the strategy, dedication and perseverance Mr. Parks orchestrated to build his company from the ground up.
The multi-generational friendship between these two African American men influenced the author’s own successful career in government and education. Dorsey’s 16-year friendship with Parks emphasizes the need for strong African American leaders to mentor youth today.
“Though there was a three-decade difference in our ages, we built an almost inseparable friendship,” Dorsey said. “He was ending a career and I was starting one- the likelihood of Mr. Parks and I meeting was orchestrated by the universe.”

 

Businessman First by Maurice W. Dorsey
Hardcover, $29.99
Paperback, $19.99
e-Book, $3.99
ISBN: 978-1-49311-478-8
Available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and bookstore.xlibris.com