The Friendship Nine, or Rock Hill Nine, was a group of African-American men who went to jail after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory's lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961. The group gained nationwide attention because they followed the 1960 Nashville sit-in strategy of "Jail, No Bail", which lessened the huge financial burden civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South. They became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College.
The first sit-in happened in February 1960 when four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The movement spread across the South, reaching Rock Hill on Feb. 12, when about 100 black students staged sit-ins at various downtown lunch counters. Over the next year, several sit-ins were held in the city.
On Jan. 31, 1961, students from Friendship Junior College and others picketed McCrory's on Main Street in Rock Hill to protest the segregated lunch counters at the business. They walked in, took seats at the counter and ordered hamburgers, soft drinks and coffee. The students were refused service and ordered to leave. When they didn't, they were arrested.
The next day, 10 were convicted of trespassing and breach of the peace and sentenced to serve 30 days in jail or to pay a $100 fine. One man paid a fine, but the remaining nine — eight of whom were Friendship students —chose to take the sentence of 30 days hard labor at the York County Prison Farm. Their choosing jail over a fine or bail marked a first in the Civil Rights Movement since the 1960 Nashville sit-ins, and it sparked the "jail, no bail" strategy that came to be emulated in other places. A growing number of people participated in the sit-ins and marches that continued in Rock Hill through the spring and into the summer.
Since these protestors chose prison instead of bail, they were sent to a work camp, where twice they refused to work, were put on bread and water as punishment.
In 2007 the city of Rock Hill unveiled an historic marker honoring the Friendship Nine at a reception honoring the men. At that time, eight of the Friendship Nine were living.
- Robert McCullough (died on August 7, 2006)
- John Gaines
- Thomas Gaither (at the time, he was a field secretary with the Congress of Racial Equality and was the only one of the nine who was not a Friendship student)
- Clarence Graham (died on March 25, 2016)
- Willie Thomas [W.T. "Dub"] Massey (is now a Substitute teacher in the Rock Hill area)
- Willie McCleod
- James Wells (died on July 7, 2018)
- David Williamson Jr.
- Mack Workman
"What made the Rock Hill action so timely ... was that it responded to a tactical dilemma that was arising in SNCC discussions across the South: how to avoid the crippling limitations of scarce bail money," wrote Taylor Branch in Parting the Waters, his Pulitzer Prize winning account of the Civil Rights Movement. "The obvious advantage of 'jail, no bail' was that it reversed the financial burden of the protest, costing the demonstrators no cash while obligating the white authorities to pay for jail space and food. The obvious disadvantage was that staying in jail represented a quantum leap in commitment above the old barrier of arrest, lock-up, and bail-out."
In 2015, Judge John C. Hayes III of Rock Hill overturned the convictions of the nine, stating: "We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history." At the same occasion, Prosecutor Kevin Brackett apologized to the eight men still living, who were in court. The men were represented at the hearing by Ernest A. Finney, Jr., the same lawyer who had defended them originally, who subsequently went on to become the first African-American Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court since Reconstruction.
- "The Friendship Nine / January 31, 1961". Herald Online. February 22, 2004. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
They were students at Friendship College and called themselves the Friendship Nine. The members of this group were James Wells, William "Dub" Massey, Robert McCullough, John Gaines, William "Scoop" Williamson, Willie McLeod, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, Charles Taylor and Mack Workman.
- Associated Press (February 21, 1961). "Associated Press'Sing-In' Negroes Eat Hearty; Say 'Jail—No Bail'". The Spartanburg Herald. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
Eight Negro Demonstrators is a disciplinary cell at the York County Prison Camp accepted and ate second helpings Monday of the full meal given every third day to prisoners on bread and water.
- Scoggins, Michael, Rawlinson David. "Rock Hill, Jail No Bail & The Friendship Nine". Friendship Jr. College 445 Allen St. Rock Hill, South Carolina. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) The first man tried was Charles Taylor, the Friendship student from New Jersey. Taylor was tried, found guilty, convicted, and sentenced to $100 fine or 30 days hard labor on the York County Prison Farm. The protesters' attorney, an African-American lawyer from Sumter named Ernest A. Finney, then asked the judge to let Taylor's trial be used as a basis for the other nine and the judge agreed. The other nine were then tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the same punishment. Taylor was concerned about possibly losing his athletic scholarship at Friendship, so with the assistance of the NAACP, he paid his bail and was released. The NAACP offered to pay the bail for the remaining nine protesters but they refused, and on February 2, they began serving out their 30-day sentences on the county prison farm. After beginning their sentence on the county farm, the nine protesters were quickly given the appellation "Friendship Nine" by the press, and the case became famous nationwide. Motorcades of other protesters and supporters converged on the prison, and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to Rock Hill and demonstrated; they too were arrested, jailed and refused bail. Over the course of the next year further demonstrations and arrests followed in Rock Hill, as well as in other cities throughout the United States. Protesters across the country adopted the "jail no bail" policy implemented by the Friendship Nine, and served out their jail sentences rather than helping to subsidize a system that supported segregation and inequality. These acts of heroism by the Friendship Nine and others helped to spur even larger protests like the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. (..)"
- "Jail, No Bail' Idea Stymied Cities' Profiting From Civil Rights Protesters". South Carolina ETV's "Carolina Stories.". The PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 21 October 2011."The 'Jail, No Bail' strategy became a new tactic in the fight for civil rights. Documentary produced by South Carolina ETV documenting the key moment in civil rights history." (Video and Audio)
- "Jail, No Bail". Carolina Stories. South Carolina ETV. Archived from the original on 19 December 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) In previous sit-ins across the South, protestors were arrested, processed by the police, fined and then released, creating a dubious revenue stream from which many municipalities easily profited. But when the Friendship students went before the judge, they chose to serve their time behind bars. For the first time, not only did the city not collect its $100 per person, it actually had to pay to house and feed the men. (..) Word of their action spread like wildfire, receiving national media attention, including the New York Times. The “Jail, No Bail” strategy became the new tactic that helped galvanize the civil rights protest movement. (..)"
- Hartford, Bruce. "Rock Hill SC, "Jail-No-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)". The Civil Rights Movement Veterans. Westwind Writers Inc. Retrieved 21 October 2011."(..) At the October 1960 SNCC strategy conference in Atlanta, some activists argue for "Jail-No-Bail" tactics. They take a Gandhian position that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests. And by serving their sentences, they dramatize the injustice, intensify the struggle, and gain additional media coverage. There is also a practical component to "Jail-No-Bail." The Movement has little money and most southern Blacks are poor. It is hard to scrape up bail money, and sit-in struggles are faltering — not from lack of volunteers to risk arrest — but from lack of money to bail them out. Moreover, paying fines provides the cops with financial resources that are then used to continue suppressing the freedom struggle. By refusing bail, they render meaningless the no-money-for-bail barrier and by serving time they put financial pressure on local authorities who have to pay the costs of incarcerating them. (..)"
- Lauren Hoyt / The Herald (February 2, 2003). "Activists revive memories of '60s sit-in". Herald Online. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
The three men each vividly recounted Jan 31 1961 when they were arrested for a siting at Rock Hill's McCrory's department store and the ensuing 30 days ...
- Associated Press (February 9, 1961). "Negroes Open New Front". St. Petersburg Independent. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
In Rock Hill, SC, 150 Negroes and a white man staged a mass protest against segregation.
- Associated Press (November 12, 1962). "Sumpter Sit-in Case Up". The Sumter Daily. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
The first case on the court’s agenda involved 65 students from Friendship Junior College at Rock Hill. They were arrested March 15, 1960 for demonstrating in front of the Rock Hill city hall.
- "Rock Hill Negro Convicted on Sit-in Charges". The News and Courier. July 15, 1960. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
Arthur Hamm, recent graduate of Friendship College here, and a demonstration leader, did not appear in city court….Hamm was arrested with the Rev. A.C. Ivory….
- "8 Jailed Negroes Put In Solitary; Refuse To Work". The Free Lance-Star. February 20, 1961. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
Eight Negro students jailed in a Rock Hill, S. C. sit-in demonstration have been placed on bread and water in solitary confinement for what prison officials called a refusal to work.
- Justin McGuire (January 27, 2007). "Historic marker unveiled by Friendship Nine". Herald Online. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
- Dys, Andrew. "Rock Hill civil rights icon tells young people: 'Be great'". The Rock Hill, SC Herald. The McClatchy Co. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
- "'An American hero.' Friendship 9 member and Rock Hill civil rights icon dies". heraldonline. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
- Mitch Weiss (January 2015). "Famed SC civil rights protesters have convictions erased". WJTV News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-01-28.
- Amber Payne (January 28, 2015). "'Friendship Nine': Convictions Overturned For Famed Civil Rights Protesters". NBC News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-01-28.
- Heraldonline video of historic marker ceremony in 2007
- Civil Rights History Project: Thomas Walter Gaither, video 2:11:06, Library of Congress