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Book Reviews

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.”

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.

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, “Businessman First” 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

About the Author

Maurice W. Dorsey graduated as the only African American in his class at the Bel Air Senior High School, Bel Air, Md., in 1965. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University. He also earned a second master’s degree in education from the Loyola College of Maryland. Dorsey returned to the University of Maryland to earn a doctorate in education in 1985. He has worked in both the public and private sectors, finding his career in secondary education, higher education, and government. Dorsey retired from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2012. He resides in Washington, D.C.

Press Release from Bohlsen Group:
Business owner defeats racial inequality, makes history
ahawman@bohlsengroup.com
Press Release from Xlibris Marketing Services
139730  A simple man’s successful venture in the risky world of business unveiled in new book

Businessman First, Remembering Henry G. Parks, Jr. 1916-1989: Capturing the Life of a Businessman Who Was African American – A Biography
by Maurice W. Dorsey
Xlibris

reviewed by Donna Ford

“In operating a successful business we must grow at a rate that will enable us to get off the thin ice…”

When Henry Parks decided on a career in business, he was constantly looking out for ways to grow both finances and skills. After founding Parks Sausage Company in 1951, he tirelessly pursued his goal to grow the company. Parks increased the product line for target audiences and expanded the number of processing locations on the eastern seaboard in order to provide the best products and service to his customers. He paid an agency to advertise, and thus was born the marketing campaign many remember: “More Parks’ sausages, Mom!” The company reached $14 million in sales in 1976. Parks sold the Parks Sausage Company in 1977, but sat on the board of H.G. Parks, Inc., and other company boards, for ten more years. He died of Parkinson disease in 1989.

If you are thinking simply another successful businessman’s biography, you would miss a key point. In 1969, the Parks Sausages Company became the first African-American owned company to trade on Wall Street. Parks was not just before his time, but he was a man who led his time. He was recognized for his achievements, willingness to share his expertise, and charity.

The author has arranged the book according to its title, Businessman First, with other categories such as service to business and community, awards received, and family life in remaining chapters. The reader will therefore appreciate the chronology of Parks’ life given at the end of the Introduction.

Even though a 30-year-age difference existed, Maurice Dorsey and Henry Parks were friends for many years. Parks chose Maurice to write his biography, likely because the elder trusted his protégé to present the life story just as he wished. Nevertheless, this helps bring attention to the remarkable life of this great businessman.

Businessman First

By Maurice Dorsey
XlibrisUS, $19.99, 128 pages, Format: Trade
star4
Henry G. Parks, Jr. is probably not a name that you know, but it’s one you should. A self-made man in more ways than one, Parks was a philanthropist, a pioneer, an entrepreneur, a facilitator, and a spokesman, but a Businessman First.

As a prominent Black businessman and member of the Baltimore community, Parks had the loftiest of goals; he didn’t just want to be a role model for African-Americans everywhere — though he was, and he embraced that role with open arms — he wanted to transcend race and be recognized as a businessman without boundaries or limitations. Whenever his business was described as a “negro business,” Parks would advocate that it was instead a business for all that just happened to be run by a person of color.

That stance makes Parks an intriguing, potentially polarizing figure. On one hand, he sought many opportunities to help other African-Americans advance, evening the playing field in several sectors. But he never sought an equal playing field for himself, because he was determined to prove he could compete, no matter the circumstances.

How do I know all this? Simple. Dorsey’s voluminous notes and keen attention to detail make his many secondband anecdotes feel like those of an embedded reporter in the thick of the action. Parks emerges from Dorsey’s stories as a fully realized character in his own right; at certain points in the narrative, you feel like the third man in the room during Parks’s many achievements, and that’s a wonderful achievement in and of itself.

That being said, enthusiasm definitely outstrips writing experience here, as a more polished writer would’ve found more seamless ways to weave major moments in the Civil Rights movement into the ongoing timeline of Parks’s life. But for the most part, this is a well-plotted, well-constructed tribute to an icon many might not know. Clunky transitions prove to be only minor obstacles on the path to an absolute wealth of information, including awards, tributes, and milestones in the business world and for the community at large.

And despite Dorsey’s clear and undeniable affection for his subject, that doesn’t make him blind to Parks’s less admirable qualities. Parks’ workaholic nature strained his marriage and his relationship with his children; Dorsey doesn’t fixate on these points the way more salacious biographers would, but he also doesn’t ignore them.

In fact, Dorsey’s affection and respect is often tinged with regret, wishing his friend and mentor had struck a better balance in his life: “Working his business, serving on too many corporate boards, and serving in the local, state, and federal sectors was too much for him over a long period of time.”

Lines like that indicate Dorsey’s understanding of his subject’s missteps, and also a strong message to any readers inspired by Parks’s example: follow his lead, but find your own way.

For a first time author writing about a subject so near and dear, Dorsey does an admirable job seeing the forest for the trees. Businessman First is an impressive effort, adding a valuable wrinkle to the classic tale of the American dream.

Reviewed by Glenn Dallas


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