With funding from Humanities Kansas, the state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gordon Parks Museum set out in 2019 to create The Learning Tree Film Scene and Sign Trail. Based on Gordon Parks’ semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Fort Scott, The Learning Tree was also the first major motion picture directed by an African American. This historic sign trail celebrates Parks and commemorates the filming of The Learning Tree in the city.
Many local citizens and families participated in the filmmaking process by acting as extras, and both The Learning Tree and Gordon Parks himself are a great source of local pride. The sign trail came as the result of the 50th anniversary celebration of The Learning Tree and was born out of a local desire for more lasting commemoration. To create the trail, the Gordon Parks Museum interviewed local people who had participated in the filmmaking to identify locations where the film was shot.
In addition to the historic markers, QR codes link to a website that provides virtual access to interpretation and historical materials. The Gordon Parks Museum has also created a brochure that is stocked at the local tourism office to inform visitors about the trail. The project inspired a great deal of local interest and support. Local landowners saw the historic markers as a valuable addition to their property. In addition to Humanities Kansas, the project was sponsored by the Fort Scott Area Community Foundation, the Linn County Commission, the Bourbon County Commission, and the City of Fort Scott, as well as local companies.