Still Working for Freedom

On Dec. 1, 1955, a weary, soft-spoken Montgomery, Ala. , seamstress refused to give her bus seat to a white passenger. The ripple effect of her arrest was felt throughout the South and beyond. Now 79--and still crusading-- Rosa Parks was recently saluted with two standing ovations when she spoke at Soka University in Calabasas . All my life I had had this enormous desire to be free and equal. My courage did not begin with just that particular incident but with a lifetime of hardship and suppression.

I knew from a very early age what it meant to be fearful of your life due to the activity of the Klan. After the end of World War I, I also knew poverty, worked in the fields, picking cotton, chopping cotton. But always my mother taught us the importance of self-worth, self-respect and believing in ourselves.

I felt, even as a very young person, that if we live in a free country, it should be for everybody, that all should have the same opportunity for education, for employment, and every aspect of our lives should be equal.

Because of legally enforced racial segregation in the South--and it was enforced in very brutal ways many times--we were a long way from being the first-class citizens that we wanted to be.

At that time (of the bus incident), I had no idea what the community would think and what the reaction of the people would be. Of course, I felt it was past time for us to continue to endure that kind of treatment, that we had endured it too long and it was not getting better. And I felt that it was something I had to do to let it be known that I, as an individual, did not want to be treated in this manner. And that we as a people should not be treated in this manner any longer.

There were bombings and other means of intimidating us, but the more pressure the powers that be put upon us, the more determined we were not to give in and not to give up and not to return to the buses until we could ride in dignity.

I'm grateful to God that he spared me and has given me the opportunity to be with you here to let it be known that I am still working for freedom and equality and will continue as long as I have the strength to do so.

Hank Williams: 'Gone But Not Forgotten'

Almost 40 years after his death, Hank Williams (that's Hank Senior) has icon status among fans of traditional country-Western music--that's roots country. So it was no surprise that about 300 showed up at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood for a "Tribute to Hank."

Dee Lannon, a cowgirl in red bell-bottoms with a butterfly motif on the back of her shirt, summed things up: "Hank, you're gone but not forgotten." Lannon had just offered up her version of Hank's "Howlin' at the Moon."

The crowd was hard to figure. Linda Chambers, a bespectacled Santa Monica milliner, tapped her fingers on the table and sang along as a parade of performers remembered Hank. Josephine Ponsico, a Los Angeles schoolteacher, danced with herself in the aisle.

"Son of a gun, we'll have great fun on the bayou. . . ."

"I can't help it if I'm still in love with you. . . ."

" ... and melt your cold, cold heart. . . ."

"I got a feeling called the blue-ue-ue-ue-ues. . ."

Beth, our waitress, was explaining that the drinks were strictly cash-and-carry and, even though the night was young, the kitchen had run out of the zucchini sticks, mozzarella sticks, tater skins and onion rings.

Some in the crowd were old enough to have collected Hank's songs on 45s but, emcee Ronnie Mack noted with pleasure, there was a second generation of Hank fans well represented. Young men in leather jackets and hipless young women in skin-tight jeans who may dance to rockabilly, but sing along with Hank and Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard.

Onstage, the performers spoke in reverential tones of "Hank," a prolific songwriter who was 29 when he died of alcohol and drug abuse.

"When I get to glory, I'm gonna sing, sing, sing," sang Oklahoma cowboy George Highfill.

"My son calls another man daddy," wailed Jimmy Sloane.

And Ronnie Mack wrapped things up with the quintessential Williams:

"Your cheatin' heart will tell on you. . . ." This weekly column chronicles the people and small moments that define life in Southern California. Reader suggestions are welcome.

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