Polly Parks, born as Mary Elizabeth, is known in Morgan County for her long-time cosmetology work, owning and operating Parks Beauty Shop since 1959 until she retired in 2004. Parks Beauty Shop is one of the first African-American owned businesses on record in Madison.
“Parks beauty shop is highlighted this week for its legacy as one of the oldest family business in Morgan County in beautifying women,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. “The reason I suggested her was because of the longevity of her success in her business and the business still continue through her daughters.
I admire Mrs. Parks for encouraging others and motivation them to reach their goal. She believes that if you want something in life you must work for it.”
Parks, who came from a humble farming family, was determined to make it on her own, doing the work she loved and had tremendous talent in.
“No one is going to give you anything. If you want something, get off your bottom and do it, because no one is going to do it or give it to you. You’re responsible for yourself and you have to make it happen,” said Parks. Parks shared that her father told her that message again and again while growing up. She relied on those words her entire life to get through rough times and to give her the drive she needed to overcome the massive obstacles and discrimination African-American women of her day faced.
Parks first learned to do hair, specifically African-American hair, from her Aunt Bessie Grimes. Bessie taught her niece “how to press black hair using a heavy kitchen fork and she taught her how to make curls using fingers.” Eventually Parks completed a beauty course through the mail and earned her beautician license. She travelled to Augusta, where she was asked to do hair and a facial. Parks had never done facials before, but she quickly watched the other candidates do them for a crash course before she was tested. Astonishingly, Parks did the best in her class for facials.
After Parks earned her license, her father, Cap Johnekins, offered to build Parks her very own shop on a small plot of land he owned. The shop was just 564 square feet, but Parks made it into an iconic African-American beauty shop that clients raved about to this day. Park used a hot-comb to style clients’ hair.
“The hot-comb was used to straighten and make black hair sleek,” said…“She had one customer who came once a year at Easter and she would have the same hair style when she came back one year later. The curls would still be in place and her hair was still beautiful,” said
Parks turned her beauty shop into a family business when she trained two of her daughters, Dorothy and Mary Ella, in cosmetology. Her daughters went on to earn their beauticians licenses and attended the Apex College for Beauty in Atlanta. Her daughters moved back to Madison to work in the shop with Parks.
“Mary was overjoyed because she would have someone to continue the legacy of Parks Beauty Shop,” said
Parks instilled a good work ethic in all of her children and stressed the need to acquire a good education.
“She said she instilled in her children to get a good education so that they could themselves and their families,” said One of Parks’ sons, James Parks, became a Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children’s Healthcare Network of Atlanta. Her daughter Evelyn became an attorney. Her oldest son, Eddie Parks Jr. retired from Hercules, Inc. after 28 years with the company. Dorothy and Mary Ella still work in Parks Beauty Shop in the same building their grandfather built back in 1958.
According to…family and leaving behind a good legacy are the things that matter most in life.
Parks trained many cosmetologists during her 45-year career, including Betty White, another locally-beloved hair dresser in Madison.
Parks is now 95-years-old and, though she is retired, still keeps up with the latest fashion and styles and comes into the shop from time to time.
According to Parks, she will continue to support the field of cosmetology for the rest of her life, believing that new hairdos enhance women’s natural beauty.