Dr. Everett Parker
Television and radio broadcasters have tremendous influence on us, from what they do and don’t broadcast, and who they choose to hire.
And when it came to hiring minorities and women and to broadcast the news fairly, most stations didn’t do either, and no-one held them accountable.
So starting in 1957, the Rev. Dr. Parker representing what is now the 1.75 million member United Church of Christ, created and directed a civil rights platform.
From that platform, Dr. Parker challenged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that regulates U.S. broadcast stations to compel stations to hire minorities and women and place them on the air and to broadcast the news accurately.
But the FCC took no significant action.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a personal appeal to Dr. Parker to do something about this.
What did Dr. Parker do?
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Dr. Parker hauled the FCC into court, and gave numerous examples of blatant discrimination.
For example, in 1955 when prominent attorney and later the first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was on a national NBC program, the NBC television affiliate in Jackson, Miss. refused to broadcast it, calling it "Negro propaganda."
That station's all white newscasters, would only show black people if they were in police custody, and broadcast Ku Klux Klan propaganda as news.
But the FCC still refused to act.
This changed in 1969 when in answer to Dr. Parker’s litigation, an Appeals Court decision written by future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote:
"After nearly five decades of operation, the broadcast industry does not seem to have grasped the simple fact that a broadcast license is a public trust subject to termination for breach of duty."
That Jackson, Miss. television station became the first station to lose its license and stations nationwide got the message, as the FCC began taking action against the industrywide bigotry.
With their broadcasting licenses at stake, station executives hired minorities and women in key on air roles, and broadcast the news with greater journalistic integrity.
At the end of his life, Dr. Parker was determined to integrate broadcaster board rooms, because they hold ultimate power, but those boards remain nearly all white and male.
This job will now fall to others as they follow in Dr. Parker’s huge and compassionate footsteps.