The Friendship Nine, a group of young activists who who jailed and charged for trespassing after a nonviolent protest of segregation, can now rest knowing their names have been cleared. In a long road to justice, the Friendship Nine’s convictions were thrown out of court by a South Carolina judge, cementing the legacy of the brave men.
The Friendship Nine – John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Henry Graham, W.T. “Dub” Massey, Robert McCullough, Willie McCleod, James Wells, David Williamson, Jr., and Mack Workman – were named thus because eight of the men attended Friendship College in the town of Rock Hill. Gaither did not attend the school and was a field organizer of the CORE organization.
On January 30, 1961, the Nine traveled as a group to the Whites-only McCrory’s establishment and staged a sit-in at a lunch counter that caused quite the stir. Inspired by other sit-in protests in North Carolina, the group had been planning the sit-in for months, The men walked into the variety store and were promptly arrested for trespassing after word of their plans got out to police.
Ernest Finney, a young civil rights attorney, represented the Nine in their court case. The group was found guilty and offered a choice of paying a fine of $100 or going to jail for 30 days of hard labor. The group opted for the labor, which galvanized protesters nationwide and gave the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC) the necessary boost needed to ramp up protests.
The Nine only served 28 days. They were let go early because prison officials didn’t want the national press to cover their story on the grounds of the prison farm where they were held.
On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III cleared the surviving members of the Nine. Hayes is the nephew of the man who convicted the nine in 1961. Author Kimberly Johnson wrote a children’s book about the men titled No Fear For Freedom, a huge part of how the Nine’s case was reopened. She met the Nine in 2011 and was inspired by their story.
The only member of the Friendship Nine not to witness Wednesday’s news was Mr. McCullough, who passed away in 2006. The Friendship Nine are all retired from public work, and went on to have stellar careers in a variety of fields including business, education, science, and law.
Finney, now a retired Supreme Court Justice, entered the motion to have the sentences thrown out. According to CNN reports, the 83-year-old Finney required help to stand as he delivered his opening remarks.
Source: Black America Web