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01/29/2015

Winthrop Faculty, Staff and Students Turn Out to See Friendship Nine Vindicated

Quick Facts

 The criminal charges of trespassing and protesting remained on the records of the nine - David Williamson, James Wells, Willie McCleod, Willie Thomas "Dub" Massey, Clarence Graham, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Mack Workman and the late Robert McCullough – up until this week. Two of the men – Dub Massey ‘74 and ‘76 and MuCullough `75 and `76 – later earned degrees at Winthrop.
 On this court day on Jan. 28, those with Winthrop connections were among those who flocked to see the proceedings.

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Winthrop students Adarrell Gadsden and
Carolyn Rennix watch the proceedings.

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA - The Friendship Nine faced a friendly judge on Jan. 28 who overturned the 1961 sit-in demonstration criminal charges that followed the men for their adult lives.

It was an historic day at the Rock Hill Municipal Court for the surviving eight men. As college students in the 1960s at the now closed Friendship College, the Friendship Nine helped devise the “Jail No Bail” strategy to open up segregated lunch counters for African-American citizens.

Instead of paying bail when they were arrested for sitting down at the McCrory's five-and-dime store lunch counter – a move that grew costly for participants – they served a month at the county prison farm.

The criminal charges of trespassing and protesting remained on the records of the nine - David Williamson, James Wells, Willie McCleod, Willie Thomas "Dub" Massey, Clarence Graham, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Mack Workman and the late Robert McCullough – up until this week. 

Two of the men – Dub Massey ‘74 and ‘76 and MuCullough `75 and `76 – later earned degrees at Winthrop.

On this Jan. 28 court day, those with Winthrop connections were among those who flocked to watch the proceedings. As York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett asked for the criminal charges to be dismissed, five Winthrop alums (Daisy Burroughs of CN2, Billie Jean Shaw of Fox Charlotte, Andrew Kiel of WRHI, Alison Rauch of CN2 and Anna Douglas of The Herald) covered the hearing at the Rock Hill Municipal Court as working journalists.

Kiel ’09 of WRHI observed: "While this was perhaps the most stressful court case I've ever covered, it was also the most rewarding. Reporting on the city and state's efforts to clear these men of their convictions was a proud moment for this city and the community that I call home. When I first met the Friendship Nine in 2011, the idea of those men going to jail for what they did was a foreign concept. Covering their struggle -- and the judicial system's effort to right a wrong -- has been a privilege."

Several Winthrop faculty, staff and students crowded into the courtroom or in the overflow area. For Kinyata Brown, Winthrop director of the Office of Diversity and Student Engagement, she felt humbled to think about where she is in her own life.

“It was because of other men and women who made steps toward doing what’s right, that allowed me to climb my ladder of success. It refreshed my hope in who I am and who I can be,” said Brown. “For the students that came with me, it was great to see them become even more inspired to not just be, but to do! They were talking about what new projects they want to do on the way back.

“Seeing this moment in history brought tears to my eyes. I am forever grateful to be in Rock Hill during this time.”

The Johnsonian newspaper editor Adarrell Gadsden and news editor Carolyn Rennix noted several emotional moments during the hearing, one when the eight men burst out with songs from the chain gang. “It was one thing to read all the articles,” Rennix said. “It was different seeing them and the looks on their faces.”

Gadsden picked up on the irony of Circuit Court Judge John Hayes, nephew of the men’s original judge, who took action to dismiss the charges. “Judge Hayes said ‘We can’t rewrite history but we can write history,’” Gadsden said.

Political Science Professor Adolphus Belk Jr. articulated for several national media outlets what the Friendship Nine’s contributions meant to the civil rights movement.

He told the Washington Post that the Friendship Nine “created a new model where they altered the blueprint for the sit-in movement. They said, ‘We will instead do the hard labor, we will go to jail and in the process bring even more media attention and attention to our cause.’”

“If you pay the fine, you’re offering financial support for the system that you want to overturn,” Belk added. “Instead, you’re now placing the onus on the system itself to offer greater resources for your confinement.”

Another professor, Nate Frederick of the Department of Mass Communication, observed that our country spends a lot of time focusing on well-known figures in the civil rights movement, but there are hometown heroes like the Friendship Nine who are living history figures right here in this community. “It was emotional seeing these men stand and get justice after all of these years. Winthrop students should look to these men and others as models of what citizenship means in a democracy,” he said. “It is important to remember our past and honor those who came before us. It was a good day.”

Other activities are planned:

* Jan. 30 and 31, Emmett Scott Recreation Center, McGirt Auditorium
World Premiere of "No Fear for Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9 the Musical"
Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 31, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

The musicial re-tells the story of 10 courageous men who put their lives on the line to prove that injustice as no place in this world. Co-created by Kimberly P. Johnson and Bruce McKagan, it features Winthrop students and alums Taylor Spencer '13, Christopher Spence '13, and Aaron Eichleberger '14 are acting and singing. Kashaad Krause '12 is the director. Josh Demerast '13 is the stage manager. Bios came be found on nofearforfreedom.com.

Current students in Winthrop's Department of Theatre and Dance have been recruited to volunteer as stage hands for the production.

Tickets are available online at nofearforfreedom.com.

* Jan. 31, 8:30 a.m., Main Street, Rock Hill
Friendship 9 Commemorative Walk

The Friendship 9 will make a commemorative walk 54 years to the date of their historic march in 1961. Area residents are asked to line Main Street and be a part of history as the men put their walkers and canes to the pavement.


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