During high school, Parker's mother fell ill from childbirth. To help his
family, he worked in his father's barber shop, while continuing to attend
high school classes. He also studied law for two summers under the tutelage
of one of his barbering clients.
After graduating from high school with the honor of being chosen as the graduation speaker, Parker planned to attend Oberlin College. An injury suffered by his father, however, ended this dream. Instead, he packed up his barbering tools and went "prospecting" in the south.