Rock Hill grew up Sunday.
Under a sunny sky, just like 50 years before, a march on Main Street past the stores that, on Jan. 31, 1961, had bathrooms for whites and bathrooms for blacks.
No more. The past was buried Sunday as the city grew up.
"I couldn't eat in that store right there," said an older black man named Jim Brown, who climbed a banister for a better look at the marchers. "Couldn't eat across the street or at the drug stores."
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A wave of young black men and women, straight-backed and earnest, paced evenly with sure foot-strikes as they went past the buildings that used to house department stores that had separate payment places for blacks, and the lunch counters that would not serve blacks all those years ago.
The crowd, hundreds Sunday, of black and white people, buzzed until the Rock Hill Ecumenical Choir and the marchers started to sing. The crowd, as one big bunch, turned silent. The songs hit right in the heart, a hammer.
Because this was not 1961 anymore.
Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the sit-in at one of those counters, the old McCrory's dime store, that ended with 10 men arrested for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter.
Each refused to pay a fine for the crime of hunger while black. Eight of the men were Rock Hill natives attending Friendship Junior College, along with a civil rights organizer who had preached the non-violent protest method.
All chose 30 days at hard labor rather than pay a $100 fine when they were convicted of trespassing.
Forever, those men would be and still are called the Friendship Nine, and seven of them sat on a stage that stretched across Main Street in front of that lunch counter Sunday.
Clarence Graham and James Wells and W.T. "Dub" Massey. David Williamson Jr. and Thomas Gaither and Willie McCleod. Mack Workman was up there, and the widow of Robert McCullough. And Charles Taylor, who was arrested in 1961 that day, but was bailed out two days later to make sure he kept his basketball scholarship at Friendship College, he was up there. They all were.
They all sat on that stage and watched themselves 50 years younger, played by re-enactors walking toward them. The ladies from Friendship who had marched with them - some of them sat on stage as well. The daughter of the late Rev. Cecil Ivory was on stage, and rightly so. Ivory, the black pastor who was the central figure of Rock Hill protests, gave his entire life to equality. He was arrested once for sitting at an all-white lunch counter, although he sat in a wheelchair.
And Brother David Boone sat on that stage Sunday. Boone, a Catholic, was the sole white to assist black protesters of segregation in the late 1950s and 1960s. Boone smiled on that stage Sunday, and he was young again, too, back in a time when whites in Rock Hill hated him.
No more. That hate is almost gone now. Rock Hill grew up Sunday.
Unquestionably, royalty sat on that stage, yet they asked for no crown. They had asked 50 years before only for hamburgers and Cokes and coffee.
Unlike 50 years before, they would get no handcuffs and chain gang labor after being denied.
"I saw the tallest guy - I was the tallest - and it got me," said Williamson of the marchers. "That was me walking up that street, knowing I was going to jail. They were singing 'We Shall Overcome,' just like we did. It just hit me and came back."
The other Friendship Nine members, similarly, saw an open tunnel watching themselves as young men about to change the world.
"Profound, and deeply moving," said Gaither of his emotions while watching a person portray him.
The men, given a heroic return to the spot after the dastardly treatment 50 years ago, sat silently and watched it all. They felt it, rubbed elbows with each other on the stage, caught each other's eyes.
"Us," said Graham. "We did this."
Yes, they did, and that's why so many hundreds wanted to be a part of Sunday's re-enactment that was so startling in its grace. The crowd of all races, stunned and shocked 50 years back in time, plainly gave back as often as it could with gratitude and love for these black people who hated nobody then and hate nobody now.
"I was at Emmett Scott High, the school for blacks, that day they were arrested," said Bill Brice. "Class of 1961. These guys were just a year older than me. They did this - did it for me."
The love in the crowd came from white and black. It came from young and old.
"I can make a difference," said an 11-year-old named Joshua Dantzler. "That's what I learned today."
Strangers held hands and grabbed shoulders. Those who knew the songs the marchers sang, joined in. It poured out of old ladies crying as they watched the marchers playing the Nine in a re-enactment of that day, singing and standing so tall and so proud.
"I came all the way from New Jersey to watch this," said a white woman named Margot Moskowitz. "My brother and sister-in-law live here. I sang and I cried - oh, how I cried."
As the marchers approached the stage, before rushing in to sit down and be escorted out by the re-enactment policeman, the Friendship Nine on that stage gulped in their throats. A half century ago, the forced labor, the prison, that they endured, was starting again in front of them, even though it was make believe.
And then, it was over.
Nobody went to jail Sunday.
There were a few speeches from a few politicians, including gracious remarks from the mayor and York County Council chairman and others who talked about courage and gratitude.
But this day belonged to the crowd that loved each other without words Sunday, and this day belonged to the Friendship Nine themselves.
When Willie McCleod's name was announced, he rose from his chair, grabbed the lapels of his suit jacket and tipped his cap to cheers. There was never, anywhere, anyone who was prouder than Willie McCleod on Sunday on that stage.
Because McCleod and all these men deserved these accolades that now could be felt and touched and seen in the smiles of this crowd so thankful for the Friendship Nine's bravery.
"It was 50 years coming," said Massey, saying the truth so brusquely and powerfully, because he was right.
After the ceremony, at the former lunch counter, now part of the Old Town Bistro, people looked at the 11 stools at the bar that bear the names of the Friendship Nine, the three clergymen who helped them in the civil rights and Taylor's name. People stared at the stools, took pictures, mingled. Black and white sat together, and nobody cared. Mack Workman's family took over three tables and laughed and ate, and it was beautiful.
In a corner booth sat Mary McCullough. She is the widow of Friendship Nine member Robert McCullough, who died in 2006.
"When they came up the street, the marchers, that was my husband right in front of me," said Mary McCullough. "5 feet 4 inches tall."
A small man, who became a civil rights giant that day and forever, going to prison for a month so that all kids of all colors could eat together as they do now.
Mary McCullough sat with daughter Tracey, whose father had changed the world, and Tracey's husband. She sat with her two grandchildren, Lauren, 9, and Zachary, 5. Zachary stuffed his face with a hot dog. Lauren had fish and french fries.
Right there in the same place that their grandfather had left 50 years before, dragged out to jail for 30 days in a protest that would re-energize the civil rights movement in America.
Zachary sipped his Coke. He asked for a refill. The waitress brought it. Zachary said, "Thank you."
The blonde waitress smiled with joy and said, "You are welcome."