Fifty years ago, a group of teenage boys decided to walk into McCrory’s five-and-dime store, take a seat at lunch counter, and order a hamburger. While this act appears innocuous, it was not. The boys were black and at this time, blacks were subject to segregation. The boys, who became known as the “Friendship 9,” knew exactly what they were doing. They were taking a stand, or in this instance, a seat — and they ended up serving 30 days of hard labor as a result of their peaceful protest.
The young men carried the stigma of their incarceration over 50 years. Now, more than 50 years after the “Friendship 9” sat at a whites-only lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina, they will be exonerated and their convictions will be overturned.
As reported on Yahoo News, author Kimberly Johnson, who published a children’s book about the “Friendship 9” last year, began to seek vindication for the men. She was inspired by their story and after reading the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and she felt she needed to help the surviving men seek justice.
Yahoo News wrote that Johnson was struck by the similarity of the nonviolent approaches by King and those of the “Friendship 9.” She contacted Kevin Bracket, a 16th circuit solicitor, to look into the case and sent him a copy of her children’s book, “No Fear for Freedom,” about the “Friendship 9.” Brackett agreed to help and will argue that the men’s convictions for trespassing should be thrown out because their skin color was the sole reason for their arrests. The hearing will take place on January 28.
The sit-in movement for civil rights had begun in 1960. The young men regularly took part in demonstrations, but decided on a new tactic. Their “jail, no bail” strategy became a model for other protesters and strengthened the fight for civil rights in the South.
This did not come without a personal cost. The “Friendship 9” served 30-day sentences doing hard labor at the county prison farm, performing repetitive tasks such as moving bricks from one point to another, and back again. Many of them refused to talk about the experience, even with their own families.
“I had fears about someone exposing me, saying: ‘Do you know what he did?'” said Willie Thomas “Dub” Massey, 72, said to Yahoo News. He went on to serve in the Army and later became an educator and minister.
The outcome of this hearing will be much different from 1961. The men will be represented by the same lawyer, Ernest A. Finney Jr., and the judge, John C. Hayes III, is the nephew of the man who gave them a choice of paying a $100 fine or spending 30 days at the York County Prison Farm.
UPI reports that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Kevin Brackett said to explain why he decided to take up the case, using one of King’s best-known statements.
The “Friendship 9,” who got their name from Friendship College, where most of the young men were enrolled in classes. They were inspired by students in Greensboro, North Carolina, who participated in non-violent sit-ins at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. The boys decided to risk arrest by doing the same at McCrory’s.
As reported on UPI, “Try to understand that what I am doing is right,” Clarence Graham wrote in a letter to his parents the night before the Jan. 31 protest.
“It’s not like going to jail for a crime like stealing, killing, etc., but we’re going for the betterment of all colored people.”
The nine are now honored with a placard in Rock Hill. While McCrory’s is gone, the space is still a restaurant with a lunch counter, and the names of the men are on the seats they occupied.
Kimberly P. Johnson, the writer who pushed to have the convictions overturned, told Yahoo News the following.
“In a sense, we get a do-over and that’s going to be a wonderful message to send to the world that justice does find its way back,” she said.
“These ordinary men did something amazing and extraordinary.”
Read more about Dr. King by clicking here.