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Westchester's Everett C. Parker, Won Media Race Bias Case, Dies At 102

The Rev. Everett C. Parker of White Plains died on Thursday at the age of 102. Parker, as director of communication with the United Church of Christ, was considered a pioneer in public broadcasting and racially balanced news reporting.
The Rev. Everett C. Parker of White Plains died on Thursday at the age of 102. Parker, as director of communication with the United Church of Christ, was considered a pioneer in public broadcasting and racially balanced news reporting. Photo Credit: Provided/United Church of Christ

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The Rev. Everett C. Parker, a leading advocate for public rights in broadcasting, died on Thursday in White Plains. He was 102.

Parker won a landmark court challenge in the 1960s over the federal government's renewal of a Jackson, Miss., television station license.

Parker's death was announced by the United Church of Christ, where he served as director of the UCC's Office of Communication until 1983.

A memorial service for Parker will be held at 11 a.m. on Oct. 3 at the Church in the Highlands, 35 Bryant Ave., White Plains.

As national spokesman for the 1.75-million-member church, according to The New York Times, Parker surveyed the broadcasting habits of radio and television stations. Parker discovered that WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., was regularly airing racist programs and unbalanced news reports.

While blacks comprised 43 percent of the viewing audience at that time, WLBT did not cover the civil rights movement and often referred to blacks negatively especially if they were in police custody, the Times reported.

Parker, a minister with TV network experience, asked the National Association of Broadcasters to develop guidelines for balanced reporting on the minority community, but the radio-television industry balked.

With United Church of Christ backing, Parker used its communication office as a civil rights platform in that precedent-setting case and beyond.

"Everett Parker is one of those heroes of mine whose dedication to justice both inspired and informed me," the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC's general minister and president, said in a statement. "We mourn his passing at the same time we celebrate his legacy. His mark on the denomination and our country is indelible. It will stand the test of time."

In 1962, WLBT-TV refused to report about Thurgood Marshall, a successful local lawyer who later became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Parker asked the Federal Communications Commission to deny WLBT's license renewal. The FCC ignored his petition, saying his church had no standing before the federal agency.

Parker filed a court challenge, calling it unconstitutional to rebuff the church's legal rights. Warren E. Burger, as a federal appellate judge in 1966, ruled the church and its viewers could petition the FCC. But the federal commission renewed the television station's license, prompting another appeal. In 1969, Burger, soon to be chief justice of the United States, ruled the FCC’s track record was beyond repair and ordered WLBT’s broadcasting license revoked. TV and radio stations began paying attention to their entire audience including minorities.

Parker's communication office created what's considered the first career-awareness program, introducing black high school students to broadcasting and new technology.

One of the church's public relations campaigns also led to the exoneration of the "Wilmington 10" -- nine young black men and a white woman falsely accused of arson and conspiracy during racial unrest. The Wilmington 10 were freed and eventually pardoned by North Carolina's governor in 2012.

After retirement, Parker continued to do advocacy work and worked as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.

Everett Carleton Parker grew up in Chicago. Upon graduation from seminary school, he worked for NBC as assistant public service and war program manager. He also taught at Yale Divinity School for 22 years ending in 1957.

Geneva Parker, his wife of 65 years, died in 2004. He is survived by three children, Ruth Weiss of Larchmont, Eunice Kolczun of Tulsa, Okla., and the Rev. Truman E. Parker of Mountain Home, Idaho; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. 

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