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Reverend who won the airwaves

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POSTED October 16, 2015 1:27 a.m.

Toward the end of his life, civil rights champion and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was asked how he wanted to be remembered. “He did the best he could with what he had,” Marshall replied.

That’s really the most any of us can do, and those who achieve it tend to make a lasting contribution to bettering our world. Luckily, there are many such people across our land, working in our neighborhoods, cities, states, and occasionally at the national level — including the Reverend Everett Parker, who recently passed away at 102.

In the early 1960s, Parker noticed that many television and radio stations were blatantly racist. They refused to cover the African-American community, ignored civil rights news, and openly used on-air slurs and racist portrayals of black people. Unsurprisingly, they also had no integrated programming and failed to hire people of color.

Parker decided to do something. As the communications director of the United Church of Christ, he began to monitor stations and file actions with the FCC, the federal overseer of our public airwaves.

In 1964, the commission conceded that Parker was correct that discrimination was rampant, but decreed that viewers had no standing to challenge a station’s license. But Parker kept pushing.

Five years later, he persuaded a court to rule that “a broadcast license is a public trust subject to termination for breach of duty.” After that, he and such allies as Public Citizen organized volunteers to monitor stations, demand reforms, and train minority broadcasters.

Over time, by simply doing the best he could, Parker helped alter the television industry’s guiding ethic. He forced it to recognize — in his words — that serving the public interest requires serving “all the public.”

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