Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Famed civil rights protesters to have arrest records erased

Published:Wednesday | January 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM


NINE BLACK men arrested for integrating a whites-only South Carolina lunch counter 54 years ago may be heroes in the historic record, but in the record of the law, they are still convicted trespassers.

That criminal record will soon be erased.

A prosecutor is expected today to ask a judge to vacate the arrests and convictions of the men known as the Friendship Nine.

The men say that brings a sense of relief as well as a feeling of hope as they look toward the future.

Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, W.T. 'Dub' Massey, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., John Gaines, and Mack Workman were arrested in February 1961 for ordering lunch from a whites-only counter at McCrory's variety store in Rock Hill. The protest came around a year after a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, that helped galvanise the civil rights movement.

'jail, no bail' policy

Convicted of trespassing and breach of peace, the men, eight of whom were students at Friendship Junior College, opted for a month's hard labour rather than allow bail to be posted for them by civil-rights groups. They did not want to contribute to the coffers of segregationists.

That decision drew national headlines, garnering the group the name the 'Friendship Nine' and setting the standard for a 'jail, no bail' policy that was emulated by other protesters around the South.

Author Kim Johnson took an interest in the men's story, studying their case and publishing a book entitled No Fear For Freedom: The Story of the Friendship Nine last year. After doing some research, Johnson went to Kevin Brackett, the solicitor for York and Union counties, to see what could be done to give the men a clean slate.

"This is an opportunity for us to bring the community together," Johnson said in a recent interview. "To have the records vacated essentially says that it should have never happened in the first place."