Rhonda and Sparky on ‘Make a Change’

Sandra ClarkInside 640

At least three marches/gatherings happened in Knoxville over the weekend, exhausting all media. Guess that’s to be expected when 14,720 crash the town (estimated 14,000 for women’s march, 700 for right to life, and 20 for the white supremacists).

A smaller, quieter but no less committed group at the Union Ave. Book Store heard Rhonda and Sparky Rucker talk about her new book, “Make a Change.” The Ruckers also cracked jokes, sang, demonstrated old-timey musical instruments and generally had fun.


I actually shot video on my phone (yea!) and you can see Rhonda playing the “bones” while Sparky plays “spoons.”

James “Sparky” Rucker grew up in Knoxville, and it’s his recalled stories upon which Rhonda’s book is based. The stories centered on lunch counter integration in Knoxville in the early 1960s.

“Just because a law is passed (or a court ruling comes down) doesn’t guarantee change,” he said. It depends on whether the state and local governments enforce it or ignore it.

Good point. And Knoxville was blessed to have Mayor John J. Duncan Sr. at the helm. Duncan and business leaders desegregated lunch counters and public transportation here without the strife seen across the South.

Rich’s department store in Knoxville is now the UT Convention Center. Photo  from Wikipedia.

But Atlanta-based Rich’s department store held out. The store on Henley Street was Knoxville’s newest, biggest and best. Rhonda Rucker said black people could buy food at the counter for carry-out, but could not sit there to eat. When forced to change, the store ripped out all the stools to become a stand-and-eat lunch counter. Soon thereafter, it sold out to competitor Miller’s. The building is now the UT Conference Center.

Sparky Rucker said the city denied a permit for protestors to rally at the store, so he and others held a pray-in, kneeling on the sidewalk near Rich’s. He was 14. He didn’t say who else was there, but can’t you just see Robert Booker and Theotis Robinson Jr. plotting this event.

As Rhonda inscribed in my book for a favorite youngster: “Remember, you are never too young to make a positive change in this world.”

Outside the bookstore, the women marched for equal rights – an ongoing quest since Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendments in 1972 but it fell short of ratification by enough states to be added to the U.S. Constitution. Across town, others marched to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade – law of the land since 1973. That’s a long time without change, y’all.

Both groups could learn from Sparky and Rhonda Rucker on how to “Make a Change.”

Random thoughts: Math-impaired Republican officeholders and wannabes gathered with the right to life folks, while Josh Williams and probably Renee Hoyos (Democratic candidates for Congress) worked the larger women’s march.

“Would appreciate your vote,” said Williams. “I vote in the Republican Primary and I’m for Burchett,” I responded. “Why?” asked Williams. “Because he’s better than the other ones,” said I. Reckon we should print that on a bumper sticker?

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