Rock Hill civil rights icon tells young people: ‘Be great’

ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013 

— Around the region and America on this weekend honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, many places will hold breakfasts, meetings, parades. All kinds of people will speak about having the guts to stand up for equality.

But at the City of York’s second annual breakfast Friday morning, one of just nine men to go to jail in Rock Hill for that equality in 1961 was the speaker. This was no talk about somebody’s guts. The Rev. W.T. “Dub” Massey, now 70 years old, barely 5 feet 4 inches tall, talked about the importance of those civil rights days because he actually was part of it.

He had the guts.

Massey was one of the “Friendship Nine” protesters in 1961 who spent 30 days in jail for protesting segregation at Rock Hill’s McCrorey’s lunch counter.

When Massey and the others stood up for the rights of all, he was just 18 years old. He went to jail at age 18 not knowing if he would ever get out alive or if his life would be ruined if he did survive.

Yet the “Jail, No Bail” strategy launched in Rock Hill and York, site of the prison camp, by the students from Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill re-ignited the Civil Rights movement across America.

Massey, and the others, plainly are American giants.

Massey told the audience of community leaders and just plain residents of York, black and white in the audience, that it is time for York County to embrace the Friendship Nine’s contribution to America with inclusion in school curriculums and historical works.

The protest by himself and the others that included jail time rather than paying a fine “is unique to anywhere else in the United States,” Massey told the audience.

And to this day, Massey reminded the 100 or so people in the audience, “I have a criminal record.”

The crime was being black at an all-white lunch counter. No politician, nobody, has ever expunged the record of these men breaking what was an illegal, unjust law of segregation.

Friday’s event, in its second year, is put on by the City of York, the Western York County NAACP, with the York school district hosting at the high school. York Mayor Eddie Lee gave Massey a plaque Friday acknowledging his importance in not just the history of York County, but South Carolina and America. Lee spoke of Massey and the other protesters in 1961 who adhered to the non-violent protests of King, whose holiday is celebrated.

Lee used the words “courage” and “justice.”

In York, Massey is not just some older protester. He was a teacher and counselor in York for decades. After Massey finished college and was drafted into a two-year hitch in the military despite his “criminal past,” he started teaching sixth-grade at York’s all-black Jefferson School in the 1960s. One of that school’s alums, Steve Love, the former head of the Western York NAACP and now a state NAACP executive, was a student of the tough Mr. Massey.

“In my class my teacher was a national civil rights icon,” Love said. “I thank him, for all he has done.”

Massey still helps young people: At age 70 he still is a substitute teacher.

When Massey finished speaking, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. In the audience were a 15-year-old named John Wilson from Clover whose father, Dennis, had been a student of Massey’s, and a 16-year-old named DeIsaac Thomasson from York.

“He wasn’t much older than me when he did that in 1961,” said Thomasson. “Wow. He’s a real life hero.”

But Massey did not speak Friday to hear applause for himself. He spoke so that people will not forget the struggle for equality for all, and that younger people do not take it for granted.

“I did what I did for you guys,” Massey told the teens. “Not for me. You.”

Massey told the two young guys what he has told young people for more than 40 years in schools, and what he did when he was just 18 years old: “Be great in your lives.”

Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * adys@heraldonline.com

MLK Day events

Saturday

The western York County branch of the NAACP is sponsoring a day of celebration in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., including a parade at 1 p.m. Saturday in downtown York. The parade features York and Clover high school bands, as well as two other high school bands and the Benedict College band.

Sunday

A commemoration of the life and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will be 4 p.m. Sunday at Flint Hill Baptist Church, 1014 Flint Hill St., Rock Hill. Area veterans are invited to a dinner, sponsored by the Eta Alpha Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. For information, call 803-322-6677.

MLK “After the Dream” Celebration will be Monday at Gethsemane Church, Squire Road, Rock Hill. Breakfast will be at 9 a.m. with services at 10:30 a.m. with the Rev. Pierre Crawford and at 6:30 p.m. with the Rev. Paul Milton. Music by the Rock Hill Concert Choir and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Charlotte.

The MLK Celebration Committee of Chester County will host its MLK parade at 3 p.m. Sunday beginning at the former Finley Community Center, Caldwell Street. A MLK worship and memorial service will be at 6 p.m. at Metropolitan AME Zion Church, York Road. The Rev. Ralph Washington of Rock Grove AME Zion Church in Rock Hill, will speak. This year’s celebration is only one day because members of the community will be attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Monday

Rock Hill’s MLK Committee will host the 10th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast 7:30-9 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church at the corner of Dave Lyle Boulevard and Hood Center Drive.

The theme is “Remember, Act, and Celebrate: Making the Dream Come True”. Keynote speaker will be Rev. Kenneth Monroe, presiding prelate of the South Atlantic Episcopal District – AME Zion Church. Music will be provided by the Rock Hill MLK Community Choir.

Table sponsorships (seating for eight) are limited. General seating tickets are $15 and can be purchased in the City Management Office at City Hall, 155 Johnston St., Rock Hill Housing & Neighborhood Services (Dorene Boular), 150 Johnston St., and RHPD Community Services Office at 46 Sunset Drive.

In addition to the breakfast, a “Dream Keeper Award” will be presented to the individual or organization who exemplify King’s ideas and tenets. The MLK Committee also will award the three winners of the “2013 Youth Essay Competition” with a cash prize and a trip to the MLK Center in Atlanta.

Fort Mill will host a holiday observance for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at 11 a.m. Monday at Fort Mill Town Hall, 112 Confederate St.

The event will feature an invocation by the Rev. Linda Hill, gospel music by Faith Christian Ministries, a poetry reading by the Rev. Leroy Murdock and a benediction by the Rev. Phillip Cargile.

Rufus “Rudy” Sanders, Fort Mill History Museum board of directors, will be the keynote speaker. Sanders is a Vietnam veteran and was awarded the Defense of Liberty Medal by the governor of New York in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack of the World Trade Center.

For information, contact Kimberly Starnes at 803-547-2116 or kstarnes@fortmillsc.gov.

The Roosevelt Community Watch organization will present its annual Martin Luther King birthday celebration at 6 p.m. Monday at the auditorium of the Clover school district resource center, 320 Clinton Ave. Clover schools Superintendent Marc Sosne will be the speaker. The spiritual speaker will be the Rev. Charles White, national director of field operations for the NAACP. The event also will feature guest choirs and praise dancers.

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