The first African American owned company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Parks Sausage Company, was headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. Parks Sausage was successful because of its founder, Henry Parks. Parks started the company in 1951 with only two employees. Under his supervision, the company grew into a multimillion dollar business with almost 300 employees. Parks trained black and white workers. In his factory, he helped advance racial integration in the workplace.
As an African American businessman, Parks knew he would be under increased scrutiny. Inside his factory, Parks kept close watch over the sausage recipe that he had created. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun in 1971, it was reported that Parks would “taste his sausage mixture everyday himself and [could] tell if the mixture is off by a tiny fraction.” In wanting to create and maintain a quality product, Parks introduced sell-by dates to his meat products. In addition, he invited federal inspectors to tour his plant at a time when only state inspectors were required. He did this for two reasons. First, to show how good his products were. Second, to show the community-at-large that African American owned businesses could maintain the same strict standards as white businesses.
Baltimoreans didn’t just love Parks Sausage, they loved Henry Parks. In 1963, city residents showed their love for Parks by electing him to the Baltimore City Council for two consecutive terms. During his time on the council, Parks pushed for laws that opened public accommodations to African Americans. He also worked to help ease bail requirements. In 1969, Parks became the first African-American to serve on the Board of Trustees for Goucher College. By this time, Parks was already a lifetime member of the NAACP.
On a local and national level, Henry Parks was recognized for his role as a pioneering African American entrepreneur and civil rights advocate. In 1982, Parks was given the honor of being designated a Distinguished American by the United States Congress.
Today, employees at the Parks Sausage Plant, now re-named the Dietz & Watson Plant, no longer make Parks sausage. But that does not mean that Henry Park’s impact as a pioneer in the sausage industry has been forgotten. Everyday, as employees enter and exit work they drive along Henry Parks Jr. Drive and are reminded of Baltimore's original sausage king.