Before there was Ben Carson, Herman Cain and Alan Keyes, before there was Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, before there was Clarence Thomas and Janice Rogers Brown, there was Jay A. Parker. Jay Parker was among the first black leaders in the modern conservative movement. He passed away on September 14, 2015, in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Parker was an early leader of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an organization that mobilized young people in support of conservative principles. Mr. Parker learned early on that members of YAF were committed to a truly color blind society. When he traveled with a delegation of YAFers to Miami Beach to support Gov. Ronald Reagan’s last minute bid for the Republican nomination, Mr. Parker was told he would need to find another hotel, since the group had unknowingly booked a segregated hotel. The group’s leader, David Jones, made it clear that unless Mr. Parker was allowed to stay with the group, they would all find another hotel. The owner relented. It was clear to Jay at that time that conservatives not only talked the talk, but they walked the walk.
After moving to Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s, Jay became active in the American African Affairs Association. It sought to spread freedom and democracy in the newly independent nations of Africa. Mr. Parker made numerous trips to the continent and played an important role in building support for leaders who opposed the rise to dictatorships there.
Jay’s leadership of the Lincoln Institute Research and Education earned him the title of founding father of the emerging black conservative movement. He brought together such black conservatives as Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas.
Their goal was the achievement of a color-blind society where individuals were judged based on merit, not skin color. Mr. Parker also served as the editor of the institute’s Lincoln Review, a quarterly that served as a sounding board for black conservative intellectuals.
In 1980, President Reagan named Mr. Parker to head the new administration’s transition team at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The report issued by the group decried what it call the “new racism” of judging people on the basis of race and opposed race-based quotas for employment. The final report declared, “The goal of all Americans of goodwill should be the creation of a society which is both color-blind and committed to economic growth and advancement.”
Mr. Parker was a role model for countless young people, black and white. He was heavily influenced by reading Richard Cornuelle’s book, “Reclaiming the American Dream,” published in 1965. In the book, Cornuelle issued a call for conservatives and liberals to participate in civic and charitable organizations as a superior alternative to the heavy-head of government bureaucracy in solving societal problems and addressing poverty. Mr. Parker took the advice seriously and became active in the leadership of many Washington-area organizations, including the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, Goodwill Industries, the Washington Board of Trade, and the Kiwanis Club. He served on the boards of Gallaudet, James Madison and Southeastern Universities. He was a trustee of the organization I serve, the Fund for American Studies, for 16 years.
Jay Parker was a role model for young and old alike. He never wavered in his convictions or his commitment to the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility, and treating all people with respect. Mr. Parker’s friendships included men and women of every background and political view. He was that rare person who even those who disagreed with his political views wished to be in his company. He always had a radiant smile and an encouraging word. He lived life to the fullest and left a legacy through the many young people he inspired to make freedom and service the bookends of a life well-lived.
• Roger R. Ream is president of the Fund for American Studies Foundation for Teaching Economics.