Rosalie Johnson wants Baltimore to know something about her grandfather, Henry G. Parks Jr., especially during Black History Month: The legendary black businessman is not the same person as Raymond V. Haysbert Sr.
Parks was the founder of Parks Sausage Company, once one of the nation’s largest minority-owned businesses. Haysbert was its longtime chief executive officer.
But when Johnson moved back to her hometown of Baltimore a few years ago, she realized that many people were calling Haysbert, who died in 2010 at age 90, the company founder instead of her grandfather, who died in 1989 at age 72.
So Johnson, a 51-year-old former architect who now works for Baltimore County, established the Henry G. Parks Foundation to help “keep his name known in the public arena.”
In addition to working on writing his biography and trying to help raise the visibility of Arena Players — the historic African-American community theater long supported by Parks — Johnson has also been talking to Maryland Stadium Authority officials about placing a plaque on the grounds of M&T Bank Stadium — near where the sausage factory once had one of its factories.
“My projects are all around preserving his legacy and keeping his name known as a historical figure,” said Johnson, who works in the county’s zoning department.
Johnson means no offense to Haysbert, who she also believes deserve recognition. She just does not want her grandfather’s memory to fade in a city where Parks Sausage had grown from its founding in 1951 with $119,000 in sales to employing hundreds with $14 million in revenue when Parks sold it in 1977.
Under Parks’ direction, the company — known for its popular “More Parks Sausages Mom, Please” slogan — was the first black-owned business to sell stock to the public and be traded on a stock exchange.
After Parks sold the company, Haysbert led a management takeover of the firm he had worked at since Parks recruited him in the 1950s.
Despite Parks’ legacy as a pioneering black entrepreneur in Baltimore and nationally, Johnson sees little public recognition of the man who also was influential in city political, social and civic circles. He was a Baltimore City Council member for six years, served on many corporate and government boards and panels and supported civil rights causes as well as the theater.
“There's nothing for Henry Parks right now,” Johnson said. “That’s part of the problem that I’m trying to address.”
She hopes that placing a plaque in Parks’ honor near the stadiums downtown — educating thousands filing into Ravens games — will be the first step to other recognition of his history.
Originally she wanted a statue, but thought of a plaque when she saw another memorial on the M&T Bank Stadium grounds: the shape of a grand piano was set into concrete in honor of Wm. Knabe & Co., a piano company with a manufacturing plant near South Eutaw Street.
“There is precedence,” Johnson said. “The Maryland Stadium Authority seems to be responsive to what I’m looking to do, having some sort of marker at the location where this historic company once stood.”
An official from the stadium authority could not be immediately reached for comment.
Former City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell, who attended kindergarten with Johnson, said he remembers his friend talking about erecting a statue and said he hopes a memorial materializes from her efforts.
“He was one of the great original black businessmen,” said Mitchell, who still has an original Parks for City Council campaign poster from the 1960s. “He’s one of the rare business types who actually had some political acumen to him.”