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Justice was served half a century later as the Friendship Nine, a group of black student protesters who were arrested for staging a sit-in at a “whites only” restaurant, were exonerated of all charges on Wednesday.

Seven out of the nine men appeared in court yesterday to hear the judge drop the convictions against the famed civil rights group. The sit-in took place in 1961 in Rock Hill, South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement. The group was named after Friendship College, the school most of them attended at the time. After tentatively sitting in the “whites only” section of McCrory’s 5-10-25 Cent Variety Store, the men were arrested for trespassing.

Because civil rights groups would post bail for protesters, the men refused the offer to give the police their hard-earned money. Instead, they decided to perform hard labor for 30 days.

The men stood in court Wednesday with their original lawyer, retired state Supreme Court Justice Ernest Finney, and presented the case to Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III.

“May it please the court, today I’m honored and proud to move this honorable court to vacate the conviction of my clients,” Finney stated. “These courageous and determined South Carolinians have shown by their conduct and their faith that the relief that they seek should be granted. I move for the convictions entered in 1961 to be vacated.”

He went on to say, “The record is abundantly clear: There’s only one reason these men were arrested. There was only one reason that they were charged and convicted for trespassing, and that is because they were black. This could not happen today. It was wrong then. It was wrong today. These convictions, if they are allowed to stand, would be an offense to justice, and they must be vacated.”

Hayes, who is the nephew of the judge who sentenced the men, announced that all charges were dropped. After the proceedings, the room of over 200 people stood and cheered and Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., touched on the importance of the memorable day.

“Today is a victory in race relations in America,” said Bernice King in a news conference following the ruling. “It is a new day.”

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols spoke highly of the men to the large crowd.

Echols told the crowd that the actions of the Friendship Nine that day “is what courage looks like when good people step forward to lead.”

Leaning on a quote from Robert F. Kennedy, who was attorney general at the time of the protests and arrests, Echols said, “Few of us will have the greatness to be in history, as the Friendship Nine have done, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events within our own actions and, by example, touch the lives of others so that in the total of all of those acts, it will be confirmed and recorded that justice is for all people, and that injustice must not be tolerated in any place at any time.”

Unfortunately, one of the members has passed and another wasn’t able to attend the court hearing.

We send love and light to the Friendship Nine, and those who endured and paved the way for activists today.


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