Toward the end of his life, the 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, no matter who they are. Luckily, there are many such people across our land, working in our neighborhoods, cities, states, and occasionally at the national level — including Rev. Everett Parker, who recently died at 102 years old.
In the early 1960s, he noticed that many television and radio stations were blatantly racist. They refused to cover the African-American community, ignored civil rights news, openly used on-air slurs and racist portrayals of black people, had no integrated programming, and failed to hire minorities.
Others noticed this same institutional racism, of course, but Rev. 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, and five years later he — and we — won a court ruling that "a broadcast license is a public trust subject to termination for breach of duty." Since then, 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, Rev. Everett Parker's initiative and tenacity helped alter the whole industry's guiding ethic, recognizing — in his words — that to serve the public interest they must "serve all the public."
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.