Interview with one of our Co-Founders, Dr. Everett Parker, about Emma L. Bowen:
Emma L. Bowen
Biographical Sketch of Emma L. Bowen
Emma Bowen (a.k.a. The Life and Times of Emma Bowen),
Registered with WGA, East
© 2000 Sylvia Hueston
When the Queen of daytime Television and American popular culture, Oprah Winfrey, announced that she would not give up her voice (television show) because many before her had sacrificed too much for her to be there, she was probably thinking of Sojourner Truth or Fannie Lou Hamer or Ida B. Wells. She also could have been thinking of Emma L. Bowen, community activist and fighter for justice, the founder and president of New York City's Black Citizens for a Fair Media (BCFM). Emma L. Bowen also co-founded The Foundation for Minority Interests In Media, and is the person whose name the foundation bears today.
It was 1970 and the cries of "burn, baby, burn" were beginning to cool in the inner cities. And so, too, were the careers of the group of African-American journalists who had been hastily hired by general market news establishments to cover hot spots too dangerous to white reporters during the racial unrest of the Sixties. Enter Emma L. Bowen, Harlem, New York community activist and organizer, who received an invitation from a group of these journalists to discuss their situations.
But who was Emma Bowen and how had she gained this notoriety as a fighter? Bold, sometimes biting, feisty and gutsy Emma Bowen for years had struggled on the front lines of the fight for racial and social justice. She was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina and migrated to New York to attend college. Soon after enrolling in City College of New York, she married and had three daughters. But soon thereafter, Emma was forced to interrupt her college education. Her husband was stricken by illness and tragically died at the age of 31. As a young widow Emma went back to work. When the demands of work and motherhood proved to be too much, she turned temporarily to Aid to Dependent Children.
During this time, Emma's natural affinity for justice prompted her to volunteer in the political arena where she worked and campaigned for elected officials who she felt would make positive contributions to the cause of equality for minorities. She ran impressively, but unsuccessfully, for office herself and was later appointed by NYC Mayor John V. Lindsay to the position of Executive Secretary of the New York City Mental Health, Retardation and Alcoholism Services. Bowen also returned to college and completed her Masters degree in sociology at Fordham University.
Her heart, however, was in community activism, and her deepest passion was her devotion to the advancement of poor, disadvantaged minority young people. She wanted more than anything to see these youth get the same kinds of opportunities as white youth did. She lived the motto that "actions speak louder than words."
Emma was no stranger to bucking the system. On behalf of Black youth she challenged one of the most powerful institutions in America, the United States Senate. Through sheer persistence, dedication to fair play, and the support, goodwill and tenacity of her friend, New York Senator Jacob Javits, Emma worked tirelessly to break the unwritten law of the U.S. Senate that denied Black youth the right to become pages there. Although senatorial resistance to change was considerable, on April 18, 1965, the first African-American page, Lawrence Bradford, Jr., began work at the U.S. Senate. Emma Bowen and those who stood by her had won.
It was no wonder, therefore, that the 50 Black newsmen and women who now needed guidance, invited Emma to their meeting. Aware of her reputation for being a fearless fighter and organizer, they told her about the situations they were facing in their newsrooms and sought her support. They felt neglected and under-utilized. After doing hazardous duty in dangerous situations involving the Black community, they were being called on less and less for assignments. Further, they felt that many times coverage of minorities was characterized by distorted, negative images. Bowen listened intently to their stories. This was an important cause. As a mental health professional, she was keenly aware of the powerful role that the media played in forming impressions and influencing opinions in the minds of the public, including self-images. She was particularly concerned about negative images of minority youth on television that she felt contributed to black youths' diminished sense of dignity and self-respect. She agreed to organize the communities' resources on behalf of the reporters. They scheduled the next meeting, and Emma went out to organize.
A few weeks later the scheduled meeting convened. The community activists numbered 250 strong; the news people only numbered 3. Though Emma was a bit taken aback, she couldn't honestly say she was completely surprised. It took a lot of guts for people to stand up in the face of adversity. But Bowen was prepared to go on, with or without the journalists. She could see the real need to fight for cause, not only for the Black journalists, but also for the sake of all, especially Blacks and other people of color. Emma knew too well the tremendous influence of the media on how people felt and thought, especially about themselves.
In 1971 Emma Bowen and the community formed an organization, Black Citizens for a Fair Media (BCFM), and educated themselves concerning the laws governing the use of the public airwaves. Wanting to voice their concerns, the group approached some of the most powerful broadcast executives in the nation's media capital, the managers of the New York City-based flagship stations of the major television networks and station groups. Some came to the table and dialogued with BCFM, eventually entering into formal agreements. These agreements prompted the hiring and training of Blacks, the creation of management community affairs positions, and focused on efforts to improve minority images on television. However, some stations refused to talk to Bowen and her group, and BCFM responded by filing appropriate challenges with the FCC to the renewal of their broadcast licenses. This action finally resulted in success.
BCFM's victories helped increase both the media's and the communities' awareness of their mutual responsibility for the messages of fairness and inclusiveness on the public airwaves. Through dialogue and vigilance, Emma and BCFM maintained a constant watch over the influential New York area media. The effect of their work extended far beyond the City's borders to include and effect national media policy. BCFM also provided an example and guidance for many other interest groups that also had issues with the media. Today, BCFM continues to pursue its founder's goals.
Black Citizens for a Fair Media became a platform for the inauguration of The Foundation for Minority Interests in Media. The Foundation was launched in 1989 through the joint efforts of Emma, her long time friend and colleague for media equality, Dr. Everett C. Parker, Communications Director Emeritus of the United Church of Christ, and the support of Capital Cities/ABC's Dan Burke and Tom Murphy. The Foundation was established to provide opportunities for minority youth. By providing partnerships between students and media organizations, youths could learn, be mentored and develop into highly qualified media professionals. Emma Bowen continued her active participation as an advocate for equality in the media until she died in June 1996.
Over the years the relationships Emma Bowen established with her former broadcast adversaries became more and more congenial, based on mutual understanding, trust and respect. This camaraderie and those victories live on today through the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media which personifies Bowen's goals and is supported by many of the same stations and networks she tackled so many years ago. Her legacy, therefore, is the thousands of men and women of color who now write, produce, direct, report, perform and manage in the television stations and networks throughout America.
Dr. Everett C. Parker
Throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, Dr. Parker and Emma Bowen were taking parallel courses toward the goal of diversity in the media industry; Emma Bowen with Black Citizens for a Fair Media and Dr. Parker with the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ. They met and joined forces. One of the outcomes of their collaborative efforts was the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media. With funding and support from Dan Burke and ABC Cap Cities and six other media companies (Fox, Gannett, Inner City Broadcasting, NBC, Tribune and CBS), the first group of fourteen students started their internships in 1989. Dr. Parker served as the Foundation’s treasurer from 1989 to 2008 and continued to serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors until he passed away in September 2015.
Everett C. Parker played a leading role in the development of public interest of American television. He served as director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ from 1954 until 1983. In that position, he was at the forefront of Protestant communications, overseeing the public media activities of one of the leading mainline Protestant religious groups. He is better known, however, for two other contributions: his leadership in the development of an influential media reform and citizen action movement in broadcasting; and his activism directed at improved broadcast employment prospects for women and minorities. Near the end of his career, he was named one of the most influential men in broadcasting by the trade publication Broadcasting Magazine.
Parker had an early career in radio production. After a year at NBC in New York, he founded and became head of an interdenominational Protestant Church broadcasting organization, the Joint Religious Radio Committee (JRRC). The JRRC was formed to serve as a counterbalance to the dominance of the Federal Council of Churches in public service religious broadcasting. Besides its impact on programming, the JRRC also addressed the impact of media on society and public interest issues in broadcasting. The JRRC was an early vocal supporter of reserved FM frequency assignments for educational use, for example.
From 1945 until 1957, Parker was a lecturer in communications at Yale Divinity School, and from 1949 until 1954, he also headed the Communication Research Project, the first major study of religious broadcasting. This project resulted in the definitive work on religious broadcasting for nearly two decades, The Television-Radio Audience and Religion, co-authored by Parker, David Barry and Dallas Smythe.
In 1954, he founded the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ (the Office), the first such agency to combine press, broadcasting, film, research, and educational functions in one unit. The office pioneered programs to improve the communication skills of ministers, to improve the communication activities of local churches, and to use television for education. It also participated in the production of some landmark television programs, including Six American Families, a nationally-syndicated documentary series produced in collaboration with Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and the United Methodist Church.
The work of Parker and the Office took an important turn in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. After reviewing the civil rights performance of television stations in the South, the Office identified WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, as a frequent target of public complaints and Federal Communication Commission (FCC) reprimands regarding its public service. In 1963, the Office filed a "petition to deny renewal" with the FCC, initiating a process that had far-reaching consequences in U.S. broadcasting. The FCC’s initial response to the petition was to rule that neither the United Church of Christ nor local citizens had legal "standing" to participate in its renewal proceedings. The UCC appealed, and in 1966, Warren Burger, then a Federal appeals court judge, granted such standing to the UCC and to citizens in general. After a hearing, the FCC renewed WLBT’s license, resulting in another appeal by the UCC. Burger declared the FCC’s record "beyond repair" and revoked WLBT’s license in 1969.
Based on this new right to participate in license proceedings, Parker’s office began to work with other reform and citizens’ groups to monitor broadcast performance on a number of issues, including employment discrimination and fairness. In 1967, the Office’s petition to the FCC dealing with employment issues lead to the Commission’s adoption of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules for broadcasting. In 1968, it participated as a "friend of the court" in the landmark Red Lion case, which confirmed and expanded the Fairness Doctrine.
Parker and the Office continued to play a central role in the developing media reform movement throughout the 1970s and 1980s in cooperation with organizations such as Citizens’ Communication Center, the Media Access Project, the National Citizens’ Committee for Broadcasting, Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen organization, and a variety of other religious and civic groups. The attention of this movement broadened in subsequent years to include cable television and telecommunications and telephone policy. These organizations became active in the developing change in regulation and eventual break-up of AT & T during the period from 1978 to 1984.
In his later years, Parker devoted more attention to issues of employment in broadcasting and the communication industries. In 1979, he worked with Emma Bowen and the media industry to form the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media. He has served as a member of the Foundation’s board and its treasurer since its inception. At 95, Dr. Parker continues to work tirelessly to encourage diversity in the media industry.
On his retirement in 1983, Broadcasting Magazine somewhat grudgingly hailed him as "the founder of the citizen movement in broadcasting" who spent "some two decades irritating and worrying the broadcast establishment." In retirement, Parker took up a post at Fordham University in New York at a center named for his friend and colleague, Don McGannon, long-time president of Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.
-Stewart M. Hoover and George C. Conklin
Dan Burke, along with Emma Bowen and Dr. Everett Parker, are credited with developing the concept and funding the dream of a multi-year internship program to prepare minority students for careers in the media. As president & CEO of Capital Cities/ABC, Mr. Burke agreed to provide the seed money to start the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media in 1989. In addition to financial support, Mr. Burke established a legacy of leadership and opportunity for many of the Foundation’s students and graduates. Mr. Burke was an industry icon. Highlights of his career appear below.
Daniel B. Burke was Capital Cities/ABC president and CEO from 1990 until his retirement in 1994. Before that, he was president and Chief Operating Officer of the Company since 1972. He joined Capital Cities in 1961 as general manager of WTEN-TV in Albany, and was elected a vice president of the Company in 1962. In 1964 he was appointed general manager of WJR-AM/FM in Detroit. Active in the company's program for development and acquisitions, Burke was elected executive vice president and director of Capital Cities in 1967. He served as president of the Publishing Division from 1969 until his election as president and COO of Capital Cities in 1972.
When the company completed its acquisition of American Broadcasting Companies on Jan. 3, 1986, Burke became president and COO Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. On June 1, 1990, he assumed the title of president and CEO.
Burke received a B.A. from the University of Vermont in 1950. Following his service as an infantry lieutenant in the Korean War in 1951 and 1952, he received an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1955. Mr. Burke passed away in 2011.