"I'm honored to be in the presence of Everett Parker. He is a legend," said Senator Joseph Lieberman (D- Conn.).
It was the worst of times.
"From terror and trial you gather us into the loving embrace of your arms," prayed the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president.
Like an uninvited guest, the terrorist bombings in New York and Washington rudely intruded into festivities honoring the Rev. Everett C. Parker, 88-year-old patriarch of broadcast advocacy. The occasion was the 19th annual Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture, held Sept. 25 at Washington's National City Christian Church, co-sponsored by the UCC and the Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC).
It brought together some 200 politicians, Federal Communications Commission leaders, communications executives, jurists and religious communicators to pay tribute to the man who in 1964 forever changed U.S. broadcasting by successfully challenging the license renewal of a powerful Southern TV station for discrimination against African Americans.
"Whenever I faced an issue of social justice or equity, I turned to Everett Parker," said William E. Kennard, FCC chair during the Clinton administration. "His is a moral leadership that transcends any religion." Kennard and another former FCC chair, Richard E. Wiley, presented Parker with an Excellence in Communication Lifetime Award, given by the UCC.
Parker was the founding director of the UCC's Office of Communication. In 1964, he applied what at that time was a radical and daring application of communication law—that TV stations were obligated to serve their viewers in the public interest—by taking on WLBT-TV, Jackson, Miss., one of the most powerful TV voices in the mid-South. What Parker saw as a justice issue, the FCC, which grants licenses, saw as none of his business. Parker prevailed in court, and the station was severed from its racist owners.
More important, the decision afforded to the public standing before the FCC and, subsequently, to other federal regulatory agencies. It launched the Office of Communication into a vigorous ministry of communication advocacy: EEO rules in broadcasting; the country's first career-awareness program to introduce students of color to broadcasting; a consumer coalition to deal with the restructure of the telephone system; the set-aside of educational programing for children on the commercial TV networks; and, most recently, the creation of low-power radio stations for local nonprofit groups.
Parker channeled his work through the UCC's Office of Communication Inc., which was created as an independent body in order to protect the larger church from potential law suits. When the UCC was restructured in 2000, the communication office became part of the Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry, lodged in the Office of General Ministries. OC Inc. continues as a separate, side-by-side agency with its own board of directors.
At the luncheon, the Rev. Robert Chase, UCC director of communication, announced the launch of the Parker Fund, a new initiative within the UCC that will ensure that the work pioneered by Parker will continue with adequate financial resources. It will be administered by OC Inc.
"Everett Parker's vision is an endearing legacy," said Thomas in supporting the Fund. "The UCC is profoundly proud of him."
Scott Simon, National Public Radio's weekend host and the keynote speaker, brought the audience back into the somberness of this second Tuesday after Sept. 11. "There is nothing good to be said about tragedy or terror," he said. But "miseries can distill a sense of utter clarity—remind us of who we are, whom we love and what is worth giving our lives for."
The final word, however, was Everett Parker's. Reflecting on the tributes paid to him, he said, "It wasn't I. It was the United Church of Christ behind me."