The group of sixth-graders sat, pizza in hands, silently listening as survivors of a battle for civil rights shared their story.
The children heard how a group of students from Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill made history on Jan. 31, 1961, when they refused to leave a lunch counter at McCrory's Five & Dime on Main Street that served only whites.
The Friendship students were arrested. Nine would not pay their fines and became the first civil rights sit-in protesters in the nation to serve jail time. The "Friendship Nine," as they came to be known, pioneered the "Jail No Bail" strategy that was critical to the movement.
"If you were not a white person, you could not sit down and eat," Clarence Graham of the Friendship Nine told the students. "Now does that sound right?"
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"Nope," several students shouted.
Graham and two other members of the "Nine" -- Willie McLeod and David Williamson -- spent part of Thursday in the media center at Saluda Trail Middle School in Rock Hill.
Students grabbed their lunches and came in shifts of 30 to listen to the men, who spent about an hour with each group.
The men explained their strategy of repeatedly sending groups to "sit in" at area restaurants that refused to serve blacks, then accepting jail time.
"We were only making the city of Rock Hill rich" by paying fines, Graham said. "We surprised them. We refused to pay. ... Our plan was to fill up the jailhouse."
They shared with the students some little-known facts about the protests, such as the support they got from white Rock Hill High School students.
"What I'm trying to do," McLeod said, "is get in your mind what really was going on."
They described life in the segregated prison camp where they were sent.
When they were denied food during a hunger strike, another prisoner slipped them a Baby Ruth candy bar.
"That's all we had," McLeod said. "That's all we ate."
After their discussion, the men asked for questions. Students' hands shot up.
How old were they at the time?
Williamson answered: 17 and 18.
Did they tell their parents about the plans?
"We didn't tell our parents," Williamson said, "because they would persuade you not to go."
Violence not an option
A man asked if they had ever had second thoughts about using the nonviolent tactics touted by Martin Luther King Jr. Did they ever think an in your face or violent approach would have been more effective?
No, Williamson said. "We didn't have the weapons or the means to protect ourselves."
"Nonviolence was the only reason I wanted to participate," Graham said. "I never second-guessed that."
Before students went back to class, several lined up to meet the men and take pictures.
"It was absolutely amazing," 12-year-old Aminah Powell said following the discussion. "For some of us African-American people, we got to learn how our history was.
"I was, like, 'wow,' so many things have happened, and now we are free."
KeUndra Winfield, 11, was equally impressed.
"It's amazing how this thing just started in Rock Hill," she said. "Like, where I live."