Jay Parker: Leaving a legacy of conservatism and individualism

A black conservative that believed in individual responsibility and service, Jay Parker devoted his life to making our country a genuinely free, open and inclusive society.

Allan Brownfield and Jay Parker at lunch in 2015
Allan Brownfield and Jay Parker at lunch in 2015

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2015 — The death of black conservative and activist Jay Parker takes from us an extraordinary individual and an important part of American political history. He was the founder of the modern black conservative movement. He believed deeply in the American Dream, despite the fact that, at the time of his birth, opportunities were limited for many black Americans.

When I spoke at a dinner honoring Jay on his 70th birthday, I quoted actress and comedienne Whoopie Goldberg. When, as a young woman, she told one of her friends of wanting a Hollywood career, one of her friends tried to discourage her, telling her, “You know you’re black.”

Goldberg responded, “I won’t mention it.”

This is a clear expression of Jay’s philosophy.

Jay and I met when we both worked for Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in the late 1960s. We became fast friends. Later, I was best man at his wedding (marrying Dolores was perhaps his wisest decision). We worked together for more than 40 years to advance the idea of limited government, maximum individual freedom and a society that judged men and women on the basis of individual merit, not race, religion or ethnic background.

Jay could disagree without being disagreeable. He had friends of every point of view and background. In today’s contentious political arena, Jay always remained the kind of person whose company was sought even by those who were furthest from his point of view.

As a leader in the American African Affairs Association, Jay was an active advocate for freedom and democracy in the emerging countries of Africa, which he frequently visited. He was founder and president of the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education. For many years the Lincoln Institute has brought together distinguished black intellectuals as Thomas Sowell, Walter  Williams and Anne Wortham and has argued that our free enterprise system is the best path for racial progress.

In 1980, Jay was named to head President Ronald Reagan’s transition team at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (this writer was a member of that team). Our report concluded that the EEOC had created a “new racism in America in which every individual is judged by race.”

The key recommendation was that, when a firm is accused of discrimination, the accuser be required to prove intent to discriminate, not just that the firm has a lower percentage of minority-group employees than may be available in the local labor force.

The report said that the EEOC had gone beyond what Congress intended when it outlawed employment discrimination in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It said that Congress intended that EEOC concentrate on individual cases and the promotion of equality of opportunity.

Instead, it said the agency had become concerned with “numerical equality.”

According to the report, EEOC had gone looking for firms with suspect percentages of minority group employees, then without any reference to intent, had come to consider such firms guilty of discrimination, unless they could prove themselves innocent.

As a further abuse of power, the report asserted, the agency had come to require that such firms adopt “affirmative action” programs, which were never directly authorized by the law. Seeking racial balance by setting quotas or quota-like targets for the hiring of minorities was, the report argued, well beyond the EEOC’s legal authority.

In some cases, it even barred the business from considering an individual’s past criminal record as a bar to employment.

The EEOC, the report concluded, should return to fighting individual cases of discrimination declaring:

The goal of all Americans of good will should be the creation of a society which is both color-blind and committed to economic growth and advancement. A system of racial quotas and classifications in a declining economy is the prescription for inter-group tensions and social dislocation. It violates our basic principles of individual freedom and our hope for continuing progress.

During the Reagan years, Jay worked with the U.S. Information Agency to help project a more positive and well-balanced view of America. He also worked with Attorney General Edwin Meese III on a special committee on the problem of missing and exploited children, as well as with the U.S. Defense Department as a member of the Army Science Board.

One of Jay’s most important contributions was his dedication to such important charities as the Salvation Army, the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, Goodwill Industries, the YMCA and the Easter Seal Society, all of which he served in a leadership capacity. He was a past president of the Washington, D.C. Kiwanis Club and served on the boards of Southeastern University, Gallaudet University and James Madison University.

This, of course, is only a partial list of his civic and charitable commitments. Jay believed in putting his belief in individualism into action because “problems in America can only truly be fixed by individuals convincing individuals, one at a time, to behave properly.”

In the foreword to a book about Jay’s life, “To Put Country Above Color,” former Attorney General Meese wrote:

Jay Parker was an influential leader who joined with President Reagan and me to help ensure enactment of the Reagan Revolution…As a result of Jay’s efforts, America began to step away … from reliance on racial quotas and move toward … a vision of a truly color-blind society.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has said that “Jay is the most principled person I have met in Washington … I know that I wouldn’t be on the court if I had not met Jay Parker.”

Jay Parker devoted his life to making our country a genuinely free, open and inclusive society. He is an example of the truth of the adage that there is no end to how much good you can do as long as you are not concerned with who receives the credit.

His passing is a great personal loss to me and to my family, but the fact that he brightened our lives and that of our country provides some degree of solace. He left America better than he found it and he played an important part in making it so.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.