South Carolina Judge Overturns Convictions for ‘Friendship 9’ Civil Rights Activists

A judge in South Carolina has overturned the convictions of the well-known nine black males ‘Friendship 9,’ who integrated a whites-only lunch counter at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement.

The decision by Judge Mark Hayes was made on Wednesday for the men to be excused of their convictions. This was an overturning of a judgement made by the judge’s very own relative, according to NPR. Hayes’ decision was reportedly not to disrespect the original judge but to right the wrong of those who came before him according to a recent statement.

“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”

In 1961, students attendees of Friendship Junior College by the names of W.T. Massey, Clarence Graham, Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, James Wells, David Williamson Jr. John Gaines and Mack Workman were accompanied by Thomas Gaither of Congress of Racial Equality for a “sit-in.” The students, who had no criminal histories, demanded to be served at the Five & Dine restaurant in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The eight students became famous for their sit-ins and more importantly, famous for getting away with it.

In February of 1961, the Friendship 9 were finally arrested for a sit-in at McCroy’s variety store and later convicted for trespassing and breach of peace, charges punishable by 30 days in prison. Their imprisonment involved hard labor in the prison farm.

Historically, the story of the Friendship 9 is one of American citizens who never got a fair trial in the U.S. justice system. During that time, protesters referred to this injustice as “jail, no bail,” a phrase which was later used to combat Jim Cow laws.

Judge Mark Hayes recently expressed that his choice to attempt the overturning of the nine convictions was inspired by a statement Martin Luther King Jr. made in his 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Solicitor Kevin Brackett was one of the advocates for tossing out the convictions, due his belief that it would bring reform to domestic policy. He stated,”What these gentlemen did was take a courageous stand against an obnoxious and vile policy. It’s important that we publicly and legally recognize the wrongfulness of those convictions.”

Reportedly, Brackett had been working on the Friendship 9 convictions since 2006. His original plan was to allow pardons, which he later changed because doing so would completely erase an important historical moment. Brackett then decided to take his attempt one step further by planning a hearing which would take place in a municipal court just across from where the arrest occurred 54 years ago.

The men of the Friendship 9, now in their early 70s, have expressed a sense of relief that justice has finally been served.

[Image via WSOCTV.]