“Whatever career you may choose for yourself – doctor, lawyer, teacher –
let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated
fighter for civil rights … It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can.
It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and
selflessly helping your fellow man …”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But at 99 years old, Dr. Rev. Everett C. Parker can stake a claim in helping to develop the public interest standard in broadcast media and laying a foundation to make the nation’s communications industry more diverse and inclusive for years to come.
Establishing the UCC’s Office of Communication
Early in his career, Parker pressed for broadcasters to serve the needs of the public. Over fifty years ago, he founded the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, and sought to use the organization to help fight the nation’s racial segregation.
“The religious element of that time realized that we were facing something new,” said Parker, adding that establishing the Office of Communication was an endeavor he spearheaded alone. “I was the Office of Communication – there wasn’t anything else but me.”
Parker blazed a trail in the 1960s by focusing the Office’s efforts on ensuring that broadcasters did not suppress the voices and images of minorities on the air and provided news coverage and programming that served their communities of license.
“I was the only one that was trying to do anything that I know of,” he said. “People just didn’t think about challenging the communications entities in those days.”
“If you want to put a mark on me, WLBT is an answer,” said Parker, discussing the challenge of Jackson, Mississippi, station WLBT-TV in the 1960s he led along with attorney Earle K. Moore.
The station participated in egregious racist broadcasts, which prompted Parker and Moore to sue the station, causing it to lose its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadcasting license. The case established precedent which gave the public standing to challenge a broadcasting license. Yet, Parker said he was mostly undaunted, despite inhabiting the very racist environment of Jackson, Mississippi, while working on the case. He also said he never fully appreciated the lasting legacy the case would create in the future.
“I always had my feet on the ground where the action was, and the future had to take care of itself,” said Parker. “But I sure had ideas of what the communications system should do, and one of those ideas was that it should be open to people of color.”
Pressing for Diversity and Inclusion in Communications
The extent of Dr. Parker’s work to make the communications industry more diverse is in no way limited to his involvement in the WLBT-TV case. Parker is credited with helping to lead the fight for the FCC to establish its equal employment opportunity (EEO) rules in broadcasting.
“It made it more open to minorities, and that meant women too, because for the broadcasting industry, women were a minority,” said Parker about the impact of the EEO rules that the Commission adopted.
Parker also helped found the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media, an organization that has helped to expose numerous minority youths to the communications industry. He remains passionate about getting more youths engaged in the industry
“I think it is extremely important that young people, [from] other than pure white backgrounds, engage in it,” said Parker. “Young kids of color. And we should reach out to stay sure that they do, so that the whole population is well represented in the making of communication policy.”
While Parker sees the need for fair representation among those who make communications policy, he does not see the FCC as a “good or bad” organization, but rather, one that is a “creature” of its president and White House.
“What we need is a determination on the part of a majority of people that minorities get a [fair] shake in the operation of the communication system of the United States, and I would say in the operation of the government,” said Parker
Reflections of a Fearless Fighter
When prompted to compare the communications industry of yesteryear to that of today, Parker stated, “There is no comparison between then and now – because we’ve learned a few things, and we can’t go back to nothing from somewhere.” He emphasized his belief, however, that while there are differences, there are still similarities.
When asked what he views as the most watershed technological advancement in communications, Parker unhesitatingly answered, “Television.”
“Having something more than noise, having some pictures with noise.… It opened up a whole world for people to see things that they would never [have] seen before in motion,” he said.
“It certainly had a big impact on the civil rights movement,” he added. “[Before television,] you couldn’t see it. You could have reports in radio days, but you couldn’t see what was happening – you didn’t know if the reports were true.”
Parker, however, said that like years past, many are not aware of how the industry works.
“Nobody knew anything about this business – it was just radio…and everybody listened to the radio, but nobody knew where it came from. There were very few people who knew who put these radio programs on. It was a closed-door industry – still is.”
The 99-year-old also looks favorably upon the advent of broadband Internet.
“ … I think that anything that opens up more possibilities for the public to make use of the communications world is a useful thing,” he said.
To many, Parker had led a life of exceptional accomplishment, distinction, and courage.
But as he reflects on what he wishes to be everyone’s lasting memory of his life, he laughs and states:
“I want them to remember that I was a guy who fought like the devil for the rights of minorities.”
MMTC honors Parker and those who follow in his footsteps by conferring the Everett C. Parker Lifetime Achievement Award, MMTC’s highest honor, upon distinguished individuals every year. Dr. Parker himself received the first award in 1995, and subsequent honorees have included Rev. Jesse Jackson and Radio One’s Cathy Hughes. A full list of Everett Parker Achievement Award recipients can be found here.
- Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has freelanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.