The other day, Ronnie Presha posted some very interesting memories on Facebook.
They provide a fascinating look at Westport in the late 1960s and early ’70s, as seen through the eyes of a Black teenager in a neighboring town. Ronnie writes:
I was raised in Norwalk. But in my teens, I succumbed to the lure of Westport.
As a Black “spade” hippie, Westport had so much of what I believe contributed to my progressive liberal views that I still hold dear.
When I was 16 in 1966, my lifelong friend Rudy Costa would pick me up on Saturdays to stand with other progressive youth and adults along Route 1 in Westport, to protest the Viet Nam war at weekly peace vigils.
It was there that I met a group of kids who became my first Westport friends. They belonged to a social club called NEYO ( National Ethical Youth Organization). Their parents let them have weekly meetings in their homes. Rudy and I became popular members.
Westport had all sorts of activities for its youth. There was a coffee shop in a church, where local folk singers and poets performed. There were all manner of activities at Staples High School: concerts, films and sporting events.
Kids were given a wide berth by their very liberal parents. Sometimes, they were more liberal than I was accustomed to. Westport was the first place where I ever heard kids curse around or even at their parents with reckless abandon. I was 24 before my mother ever heard a curse roll off my lips, and that didn’t go over well.
These kids, predominantly white, all had long hair, and wore bell bottoms, paisley, moccasins and beads. Those who had religion belonged to the Unitarian Church.
One of my friends, Leigh Sobel, was friends with a local band that was looking for a singer and a sax player. Rudy played sax and I fancied myself a singer. I became one of 3 lead singers in this dynamite band.
The band included 15-year-old phenom Charlie Karp. He went on to play with Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix. Those were amazing days.
Managed by WICC program manager Mike Fass, the Soul Purpose played songs by James Brown, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and other Black artists. They gained plenty of regional recognition. In Westport, they opened for the Rascals and Sly & the Family Stone. Sly was not yet well known, but through word of mouth the auditorium was packed.
Ronnie wrote much more, about his later years in music. But for a while, he and his Norwalk friend Rudy provided Westport with a welcome beyond our borders — and a wonderful way to “dance to the music.”
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