The Friendship Nine are a group of young activists who were jailed and charged for trespassing after a non-violent protest because they refused bail. In a long road to justice, the Friendship Nine’s convictions were finally thrown out of court by a South Carolina judge, cementing the legacy of the brave men.
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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. Inspired by other sit-in protests in North Carolina, the group had been planning the action for months. The men walked into the variety store and were promptly arrested for trespassing after word of their plans reached 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.
In 2015, 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.
“We cannot re-write history but we can right history,” Hayes said.
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 the exoneration was McCullough, who passed away in 2006. The Friendship Nine all went on to have stellar careers in a variety of fields including business, education, science, and law.
Finney, a former South Carolina Supreme Court Justice, entered the motion to have the sentences thrown out. He died in 2017 at the age of 86. Wells died at 77 in 2018.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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