Rock Hill's Main Street was a busy place in 1961.
Department stores, variety and drug stores. Restaurants with counter and curb service, dry cleaners - everything a person needed.
Bustling lunch counters in four of those stores, with pretty girls in hoop skirts and ruby-red lipstick, burgers and shakes and bottomless coffee for a nickel a cup.
Lean, raw-boned guys in loafers and khakis with knuckles scraped from work in huge textile mills that hired anybody willing to work.
If you were white.
Blacks worked in service, as maids and hod-carriers and cooks. Blacks were there on Main Street, customers who could buy from a back window, but looked straight through by most whites.
They were there, but invisible.
"I was a little boy, then a teenager, looking into the places on Main Street, and it was just whites sitting on those stools," said a black man, now 68, David Williamson Jr. "You don't forget a thing like that. It was everywhere in your life.
"Everything was different for white and black. They were white. We were black. Negroes."
In those busy restaurants, blacks sure could cook the food, and clean up, and serve the food at the lunch counters. But they could not sit at the lunch counters and eat.
The bus station had "colored" and "white" waiting rooms and stores had separate water fountains and bathrooms. There were schools for blacks and schools for whites. This newspaper had "colored news."
Whites held all political offices and held all municipal jobs such as police, owned almost all businesses.
Main Street was white, for whites.
Blacks stepped aside for whites or risked abuse - or worse.
That was reality, for both races, in January 1961.
Certainly many whites were not prejudiced against blacks, but few ever said so. There was no white movement to rid Rock Hill of segregation.
The races lived separate, parallel lives, spurred on by generations of belief by politicians surely, and many white people in general, that blacks were inferior, that blacks were not equal and should not be treated so.
And for sure, no way would blacks be allowed to sit next to whites, marry whites, go to school with them.
Almost a century after the Civil War and emancipation, the white way was the only way. South Carolina had legislative committees set up not for integration, but to keep segregation.
The races were separate, both in custom and in law. Generations in Rock Hill, and all Southern towns and cities, grew up with segregation.
Those blacks who defied segregation rules found out that the white Citizens Council, which had hundreds of members in Rock Hill and thousands more across the state, and the Ku Klux Klan, were willing to enforce those rules with the butt of a rifle.
Or a burning cross.
'How the world was'
Williamson lived on Carroll Park in the Crawford Road black section of Rock Hill. His father was a painter for the school district.
Willie McCleod grew up in the country west of the city where blacks farmed.
James Wells was raised among few blacks surrounded by whites near the Industrial Mill, and he had a best friend who was white until that friend's parents found out. He had no white best friend after that.
"I was a Negro," said Wells. "The whites wanted their kids separate from us. That was how the world was. White for them, black for us."
Clarence Graham grew up in the black Boyd Hill neighborhood. Robert McCullough on all-black Black Street, where the tiny black business district sat.
W.T. "Dub" Massey lived on Friedheim Road with his grandparents, where they had a church. Mack Workman was raised on Carolina Avenue Extension, and John Gaines lived with his grandmother and great-grandmother on Hagins Street near Friendship College, where his great-grandmother cooked for the all-black student body.
Thomas Gaither was raised in Great Falls, the only one of these men whose parents had any chance at schooling - but still black surrounded by white that decided all.
Separate was all they knew.
In Rock Hill, Winthrop College in the white section of town was all-white. Clinton Junior College, run by the AME Zion Church, and the black Baptist-supported Friendship, were the sole options for Rock Hill blacks.
Friendship was a school that got black students ready to be teachers and preachers for other blacks. A lucky few blacks went to larger, black colleges around the South.
'Not men in their eyes'
But after the non-violent civil rights movement started in the South at black churches and schools, blacks slowly started to protest segregation in Rock Hill.
A bus boycott started in 1957, then sit-ins and picketing demonstrations of Main Street lunch counters started in February 1960 - the first sit-ins in South Carolina.
Friendship students and the Rock Hill NAACP - led by the Rev. Cecil Ivory of Hermon Presbyterian Church, an iron-willed black man confined to a wheelchair after being disabled in an auto accident - protested for weeks and months and years.
The sole whites to protest were a few priests and brothers from The Rock Hill Oratory, who had founded an integrated Catholic school and church a few years earlier on Crawford Road in the heart of the black neighborhood.
Black boys who became black men watched it all, even participated in the later protests.
"You went to the wrong place, the white place, you might just as easy get shot as anything," said Dub Massey of the time following the first protests. "They wanted us in our place. The back. Out of sight. Getting the leftovers.
"We were not looked on as equal. We were not men in their eyes. We were..."
All know what many who wanted to keep segregation called those black people in 1961.
Whites reacted to protests and calls for an end to segregation with jeers. They threw eggs and fists. They pulled out the handcuffs.
Blacks in Rock Hill, like other Southern cities, were arrested for protesting and always were bailed out immediately with money raised by the NAACP or other groups.
These young men saw that all the protests seemed to accomplish was a galvanizing of the white power structure to decide, forcefully, that integration was not going to happen.
All the bail money - thousands of dollars - was going to the police and courts, with little change.
"We marched all the time, and it seemed like nothing was changing, although we kept doing it because we knew it was right to do it," said John Gaines. "We protested, but things hadn't changed. Not one bit."
'Only way to get equality'
By late 1960, Gaither, a 22-year-old graduate of all-black Claflin University in Orangeburg, was working for the Congress on Racial Equality, a civil rights organization active in the South.
Gaither came to Rock Hill because his parents both went to Friendship and he knew people in Rock Hill. That fall - on the heels of the sit-ins started earlier that year by the NAACP and Friendship's 1960 graduating class - he met with dozens of Friendship students. They talked about the non-violent method already in place.
Those students were raised in Rock Hill and graduated from all-black Emmett Scott High School. The segregation they saw was as much a part of their lives as church.
Graham and Wells came from the Emmett Scott class of 1959. Workman, McCleod, Massey, Gaines, McCullough and Williamson were from the class of 1960. All enrolled at Friendship but lived at home.
These men knew from their own experiences by 1961 that Southern whites in Rock Hill, just like blacks, were born and raised into segregation. Many knew it was wrong, but that is all they knew.
There is no doubt some, maybe many, whites were not racist or believed blacks were inferior to whites.
Even the whites who believed segregation to be wrong - who had been raised to believe in equality by parents who believed in human dignity for all - felt powerless to change segregation.
Other than a handful of white Catholics such as Brother David Boone who integrated Catholic parishes and Catholic schools - and were shunned by white Rock Hill because of it - there was no white group in Rock Hill who pushed publicly for integration.
Jim Parrish, who graduated from the all-white Rock Hill High School in 1961, remembered that many would go downtown to watch the silent protesters.
Many whites, the same age as the protesters, were busy applying to college, going on dates, living in a world that they had total access to. A few would go downtown and hurl epithets - or worse - at the protesters.
Some, in the back of the school auditorium, would chant, "2,4,6,8 - we don't want to integrate!"
White teens knew that Rock Hill's white power structure was against the protests, but they had no idea that segregation was crumbling - or that the protesters were doing the demolition, bit by bit.
"That was a time of unrest and change in society," Parrish recalled. "Little did we know that the decade of the '60's would be the end of segregation in the South.
"I think fear was my primary emotion, standing there watching the silent protesters."
Yet it was the blacks of Rock Hill who acted to right that wrong of segregation.
These black men decided to fight the system. These blacks did not lash out at individual whites or hate any of them. Segregation was the enemy - not the white policeman, or even the white goon calling them names.
"I knew right then that the non-violent way was the only way," said Graham. "There was probably 40 of us at school who studied non-violence, followed it. We believed it was the only way to get equality.
"I grew up with segregation. It hurt me. It hurt my family. I was not less than anybody. I knew it in my heart."
Many of these Rock Hill guys, now in college, were part of the irregular but common protests and picketing on Main Street during 1960. Like Gaither at Claflin, Wells had a year of college - and protests - at S.C. State College in Orangeburg before returning home to go to Friendship.
Robert McCullough, valedictorian of the Emmett Scott class of 1960 - called the "Little General" because of his short stature, but guts and brilliance - quickly became the ringleader of the Rock Hill-native students.
"This was all we knew - segregation, and we knew it was wrong," Workman said.
They met on campus in late January 1961 and talked about how to proceed with better results that would not give money to the city.
All agreed, with Gaither advising and McCullough voicing the words, that the next protest would be different.
The men would walk downtown, protest like before, then sit down at the McCrory's lunch counter and order.
If they were fed, they would rejoice. But that had never happened before. If they were not fed, they would get arrested. Nothing new about that, either.
But instead of posting bond - which would become a fine after a guilty verdict and be kept by the courts of Rock Hill - the men would stay in jail.
"The words, 'Jail, No Bail' - that was exactly what we said," McCleod remembered.
Their initial thought was to hold the new type of protest on Feb. 1, 1961 - the one-year anniversary of the sit-ins at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., which started all sit-ins in the South.
But the group chose the day before the anniversary, because they thought that was an obvious choice and police and politicians would be expecting something.
This was different, this "Jail, No Bail," so they decided to spring a surprise.
'Chance to prove' selves
By Monday night - Jan. 30, 1961 - only Massey had told any family of the plan. His family tried to talk him out of it. His grandfather was a preacher with a painting business and there was concern not for lost business, but for violent reprisals.
"Nobody wanted their family to suffer from the Klan, or anything else," Massey said.
Others had parents who depended at least in part on whites or white businesses for their livelihoods that fed other children and paid the rent.
"No way was I telling what we were going to do," McCleod said. "We were raised to be obedient. Our parents would have said no, no staying in jail."
So they told no one else of the plan, other than Gaither calling the CORE offices so that a lawyer could be ready to help them in court.
They did not tell the Rev. Ivory with the NAACP or brother David Boone with the Oratory - allies in previous protests - because the policy before always was to get arrested, then get bailed out, then come back and protest again.
"Staying in jail was radical, untested," said Gaines. "That was not the NAACP way, or any other way. This was new."
They discussed that some or all might get hurt - even killed.
Nobody slept much that night and into the morning of Jan. 31, 1961.
Graham, just 18 at the time, 120 pounds on his whippet-thin, almost 6-foot frame, nervously scratched out a letter that he snuck under his mother's pillow.
The words - from an 18-year-old black man in 1961, who did not know if he would survive what he was about to do - were as powerful as any ever written:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
By the time you read this, I suppose both of you will be upset and probably angry. But I hope not. I couldn't tell you this morning. I wanted to, but I just didn't know how.
I want you to know that this is something that I really and truly want to do. I just have to. I want you both to be proud of me, not angry. Try to understand that what I am doing is right. It isn't like going to jail for stealing, killing etc., but we are going for the betterment of all negroes.
You must realize it is time I made some decisions for myself now. After all, I am almost grown and I do want you both to try and understand that this is something I have thought about very seriously.
Really, I just couldn't be at ease with the rest of my friends and classmates up there, and my knowledge I should be there, too. So try to see things my way and give us, the younger generation, a chance to prove ourselves, please.
"And most of all, don't worry and pray for us."
The other men stared at the ceilings, in their beds in segregated Rock Hill that night, and watched the sun rise.
Little did these nine men know that, within hours, they would start to change the world.