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6A Thursday, January 29, 2015 The Rock Hill HeraldNEWS Friendship Nine A group of South Carolina civil rights he- roes had their moment in the sun on Wednes- day morning, as their 1961convictions for sit- ting at a whites-only lunch counter were cated, null and void, and set dis- missed with in a Rock Hill courtroom. cannot rewrite history but we can right said Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes. The Friendship Nine are guilty no more. On Jan.
31, 1961, nine students at Rock Friendship Junior College David Wil- liamson Willie T. Massey, Clarence Graham, James Wells, Willie McCleod, Mack Workman, John Gaines, Charles Taylor and the late Robert McCullough along with civil rights organizer Thomas Gaither were ar- rested for sitting at a lunch counter at the department store in downtown Rock Hill. The next day, they were convicted of trespassing, with attorney Ernest Finney at their sides. Rather than pay the $100 bail, the men chose to spend 30 days doing hard labor on the York County Prison Farm. Only Taylor allowed the NAACP to pay his bail so he lose his athletic scholarship.
The civil rights movement of No was born. On Wednesday, Finney, 83, who was the first black chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, stood and once again repre- sented the nine, along with another four peo- ple who were arrested and jailed the next week after replicating the Friendship stu- activities. Both Finney and the late Matthew Perry, who also represented the Friendship Nine, were civil rights heroes themselves, Hayes said. Perry later became a U.S. District Court judge.
the decision of the court today show the resolve of South Carolina to work togeth- er, to learn together and to progress together and to ensure the promises set forth in our Constitution that all men are equal under the Finney said, as he asked the court to va- cate the sentences. Moments later, 16th Circuit Solicitor Ke- vin Brackett not only echoed desires that the convictions be vacated, but also spoke on behalf of the entire state. me to extend my heartfelt apologies to each of you for what happened in he said. are my In his decision, Hayes, whose uncle origi- nally sentenced the men back in 1961, wrote Friendship Nine) were prosecuted solely based on their Such prosecution is on its face unjust under any Judge tosses out convictions By Rachel Southmayd FRIENDSHIP NINE GUILTY NO MORE TRACY KIMBALL The Friendship Nine had their convictions vacated Wednesday at the Rock Hill Municipal Court. The men were arrested in 1961 after staging a sit-in at the lunch counter in Rock Hill.
ROB UPTON Ernest Finney stands and argues for the convictions of his clients, the Friendship Nine, to be vacated and their records cleared of their 1961 convictions. The protesters whose convictions were vacated Wednesday were: Charles Taylor (not in attendance) James Wells Clarence Graham Robert McCullough (died in 2006, repre- sented by his wife, Mary McCullough) Thomas Gaither (represented by his son, Kenn Gaither) Willie McCleod Mack Workman Willie Massey John Gaines David Williamson Jr. Diane Nash (not in attendance) Ruby Smith (died in 1967) Charles Jones Charles Sherrod Protesters who came to Rock Hill several days after the Friendship Nine arrests. They also were arrested, refused to pay bail, and were sentenced to 30 days in jail. a victory for nonviolence and an affirmation that nonviolence always, always wins in the DR.
BERNICE KING ON THE FRIENDSHIP NINE CONVICTIONS BEING VACATED SEE VACATED, PAGE 3A The eight black men sat in the courtroom at exactly 10 a.m. Wednesday. Shoulder-to-shoulder they sat and it was Feb. 1, 1961, again. White judge, white prosecutors.
The black defendants lined up, ter- rified and courageous at the same time. The law written by whites for whites. The jail cells through the back hallway so close that in quiet moments when the doors were ajar the clang of the bars seeped in. my, this is whispered David Williamson Jr. time I was here, I was a jailbird.
Teenaged criminal. Those cell bars, you never forget the sound. Hear it in your So many people mostly black, but not all surged to get into the Rock Hill Municipal Courtroom that the fire marshal had to bar the door with burly cops. Hundreds waited to see what would happen to black men who had defied whites in the South five decades ago. Some stood, hands held over mouths.
Ma- ny sat and listened, and waited pa- tiently along with the black men. But the words that filled the courtroom 54 years later were dif- ferent. No prosecutor or police offi- cer was there to say these black men tired of segregation, tired of having less dignity than dogs had broken a law by sitting at a whites- only lunch counter on Rock Main Street just a block away. No one was there to pronounce them guilty of trespassing. On Jan.
31, 1961, nine Friendship Junior College students and a civil rights organizer were arrested after sitting down at the lunch counter on Main Street in downtown Rock Hill. They were convicted in court the next day. On Wednesday, a white prosecu- tor and a white judge admitted, fi- nally, that the offense these men were guilty of in 1961 was not tres- passing, it was simply being black. The white men, working in the same jobs as the men who enforced the laws behind segregation in 1961, said simply to the surviving members of the Friendship Nine, am sorry. We were No more would the official re- cord, identifying them as for colored male, read: Tres- passing.
Trial: Guilty. Sentence: $100 fine or 30 days. Disposition: Sent to York County Chain The crowd of people living in 2015 stood and sat silently, shocked and appalled at what Rock Hill and South Carolina used to be. But this day was not about the crowd who wanted to witness his- tory, or the apologetic prosecutor and spectacular judge, both of whom spoke so eloquently and with real emotion about the law they have worked in for decades, how it was once unjust. This day was about the men who helped change a nation by going to jail to show how much they loved their country.
Men who all their lives bore the brand even as they fought in Vietnam, be- came successful lawyers and busi- nessmen, preached from pulpits and helped mend broken kids from broken homes. It was about one man whose wi- dow stood in for him on Wednesday. Mary McCullough stood like a queen. She did not cry. She beamed with pride.
Her late husband, Rob- ert McCullough, the unquestioned leader of the Friendship Nine protesters, died in 2006 at age 64. He died, according to the legal record, a criminal. would have loved Mary McCullough said. deserved this. They all As they did in 54 years ago, the defendants sat in a formation around the defense table with their lawyer, described by the media and court documents in 1961 as attorney from Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney, now 83, his long white hair a regal mane, man- aged to stand with help from his prosecutor son.
Finney had come to ask a judge to say that the state that he has served most of his life was wrong. He spoke with the gravelly voice of those who have been dragged, beaten, arrested and jailed for the crime of being black just like him. After graduating from law school, Finney had to serve dinner to white lawyers because black lawyers were banned. insult these citizens en- Finney said. He paused, let- ting that sink in before speaking again.
men are equal under the The lion in winter, still roars. James Wells sat in his wheelchair, a lifetime spent first as a soldier, then as a lawyer, trying uncounta- ble cases in the same courtroom. But not on Wednesday. I am a defendant Wells whispered. ac- tions brought me here.
All of As was the custom in the 1960s, the trial of the Friendship Nine came the day after they were arrest- ed, and they were found guilty did it for all of for TRACY KIMBALL David Williamson Jr. of the Friendship Nine whispered in court Wednesday, time I was here, I was a jailbird. Those cell bars, you never forget the sound. Hear it in your SEE DYS, PAGE 3A Friendship Nine finally get justice, and we are all better for it Columnist Andrew Dys.
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