On Saturday, there will be a party celebrating going to jail for a month. Food, conversation, a few words from a speaker, some toasts.
Sure beats five days in the York County Prison Camp's solitary confinement - "the hole" - with nothing to eat but a Baby Ruth candy bar shared nine ways in 1961.
The guests of honor Saturday will be black. The people honoring them will be black and white and anybody else who ever sat down to eat across from somebody who looked different from them, and said: "Try the fish. It's delicious."
Saturday's gala ends a month's worth of events commemorating the Friendship Nine's arrest for trespassing after a sit-in at a segregated Rock Hill lunch counter Jan. 31, 1961.
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Ten were arrested that day and convicted a day later. Eight Friendship Junior College students and a field organizer from a civil rights group chose to spend a month at hard labor rather than pay the $100 fine. All came after a year of sit-ins and years of civil rights protests in Rock Hill.
Much has been written about the event, and a S.C. ETV documentary was made about them.
Yet the men deserve more than press clippings and hits on the Internet. The Friendship Nine are real men. All deserve a raised glass or two - and not just from blacks.
What they did, dubbed, "Jail, No Bail," took hold across the South as many protesters chose to stay in jail rather than pay fines.
The action re-ignited the sit-in movement across the South, which brought national attention to the fight against segregated restaurants, public accommodations, transportation and schools.
Without question, the actions of these men in Rock Hill - eight of them Rock Hill natives who protested in their own hometown, risking danger to themselves and their families - changed America forever.
Their names are now on stools at that same lunch counter - once McCrory's Five-and-Dime, now the Old Town Bistro - and the gala will be in the back of that same building.
The Friendship Nine are real people - not some dry history lesson - David Williamson Jr., John Gaines, Mack Workman, W.T. "Dub" Massey, Willie McCleod, Clarence Graham, James Wells, Thomas Gaither, and the late Robert McCullough. Charles Taylor was the tenth man arrested that day.
These men did what they did not so much for themselves, but for a better society. They were not fighting against whites, they were fighting segregation. They hated no one - then, or now. They were nonviolent. They threw no punches then, or ever.
Look around the block where you live, or at church today, or at work this week.
See if you can find somebody who so believed in America as the home of equality, the greatest place of freedom on earth - somebody who went to jail for a month to make that America better, and did it without a gun or a left hook.
Some days you can't get Dub Massey to come tell kids at a school about his actions 50 years ago because he, after retirement, went back to teaching kids of all colors at York schools.
"I love them all," is what Massey says at Hunter Street Elementary School in York, in the hallway near the office, where kids of all races love him and praise him and rush to be near him.
The rest of the guys are retired after lifetimes of work in academia, law, science, finance, social work, business. Talk about earned retirement.
These guys are owed a couple of drinks, and a dinner.
Events of the past month - a re-enactment and screenings of the documentary - drew crowds of white and black, young and old. So many young people wanted to shake hands with these men, touch their hands.
Winthrop had to turn people away from one screening of the Friendship Nine documentary because the fire marshal was going to start yelling about an overcrowded room.
One little kid at the lunch counter, the day after the re-enactment, sat on the stool with Williamson's name on it. Another little kid sat on Graham's stool. A third kid sat on McCleod's stool. They spun around on those stools, as kids will do.
Those three kids did not know, until I told their parents, that the real men whose names are on those stools were sitting at a table five feet away from them. The men won't make a fuss over themselves - they are so humble - so I do it myself.
The kids and the parents did not know that for so many years, the Friendship Nine has given away thousands of dollars of their own money for college scholarships, to kids just like the ones sitting on those stools.
David "Scoop" Williamson looked at all three of those kids, who were sitting next to real, live historic heroes, and told them one thing with a wink and smile: "Do your best in school."
Fiftieth anniversaries do not come every day. Saturday might be the last time most of them are together for anybody to thank them as a group.
Or it might be the time that somebody would want to donate to the scholarship fund, or donate to the volunteer committee that raised thousands of dollars in private money to pay for all the Friendship Nine events. Not a dime came from taxpayers.
The money to celebrate 50 years, just like the change that ended segregation that cost a month in jail, came from real people.
WANT TO GO?
What: Friendship Nine dinner gala
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Palmetto Room, in the back of the Old Town Bistro, 135 E. Main St. Rock Hill.
Speaker: Cleveland Sellers, president of Voorhees College and a civil rights activist.
Tickets: $30 per person, or $55 per couple.
Information: Old Town Bistro, 803-327-9222; Rock Hill-York County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, 803-329-5200; friendshipcollege.org.
Want to read more?
To read all The Herald's coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Friendship Nine sit-ins, go to heraldonline.com/friendshipnine.