Most anniversaries are parties. This anniversary today, of wrongs never fully righted, has no streamers. No cake. No songs. No celebration.
Yet maybe, after last week when racial hate turned first into remorse, then forgiveness, there is hope.
South Carolina can make what happened 48 years ago go away.
Today marks the anniversary of the Jan. 31, 1961, arrest, and conviction a day later, of nine black men at the McCrory's lunch counter on Rock Hill's Main Street. Friendship Junior College students David Williamson Jr., Willie McCleod, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, W.T. "Dub" Massey, James Wells, Mack Workman and the late Robert McCullough. These men, called forever afterward, the "Friendship Nine."
Because these black men opted to fight segregation, each was convicted of misdemeanor charges of trespassing and breach of peace in a trial that lasted as long as a cup of coffee in front of a white judge and white jury. On principle, each chose a sentence of 30 days in jail rather than a $100 fine.
The true crime: being black, and demanding to sit where whites ate.
Their criminal records have never been erased. The record of a conviction followed them to the military, colleges, seminary, jobs. Marriage, fatherhood, grandchildren.
One of those nine men, McCleod, was asked by friends at church Sunday: "How come none of you ever got a pardon?"
So McCleod said to me: "That sure seems like a good question. I think we deserve it."
The Friendship Nine are hailed rightfully as civil rights heroes. Their valor is the subject of museums. Just two years ago, a historic marker in their honor was put up on Main Street as city and York County officials apologized. Last week, two of the mob of whites who taunted those blacks for demanding equality apologized. These great men asked for none of this, never asked for a single apology, yet accepted all with thanks and grace.
But never has South Carolina and its legal system that prosecuted them rectified the fact that black men were prosecuted for demanding equality in the first place.
The men have never asked for pardons or any other legal fix, although it came up a few times in conversation, Williamson said.
But why should nine men who went to jail so all the rest of us could have equality have to ask that the state wipe clean that criminal record?
"They shouldn't have to do anything," said S.C. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, a lawyer, referring to the nine men. "They did nothing wrong. I would love to help. It is time."
Rutherford said it's unclear if the General Assembly could handle the matter by legal proclamation or resolution, but vowed to check. State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill and a lawyer, also said Friday he would look into legal and legislative remedies.
A pardon is an option. Rutherford said he helped get a pardon for a civil rights activist several years ago in Columbia. Cleveland Sellers, a celebrated civil rights hero and president of historically black Voorhees College, was pardoned more than 15 years ago. Sellers, who has said for 41 years he committed no crime, was the sole person prosecuted in the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre. A day of riots at S.C. State University in which three blacks were killed after white state troopers fired on students demanding equality.
But a pardon is really the state forgiving people for a crime. And the crime of these men who changed the world with their courage was, clearly, being black.
A spokesman for the governor's office said the governor does not have the power to issue pardons. A pardon, mostly for felonies and probation, would mean these men would have to ask the state, and pay $100 each, for that chance at forgiveness, then hope the state pardon board -- after an investigation and reference check and more -- grants a pardon.
"I sure think we paid off that $100 and more during that 30 days on the chain gang," said Massey, an Army veteran who spent his life in the ministry and education. "We never asked for a pardon. Really, we never asked for anything. Why should I ask?"
But Massey said all his life, "My criminal record has been with me."
That is wrong.
Wells, who practiced law all his adult life until retirement, who said his "troublemaker" status followed him to the military and law school, said paying and asking for forgiveness for breaking a law that was found later to be legally and morally wrong, "doesn't sound morally right. We spent 30 days in jail."
Maybe part of the answer is what lawyers call "expungement" of the misdemeanor record. Expungement ends with a misdemeanor arrest and conviction wiped clean from court records, like the arrest and crime never happened.
But neither a pardon nor wiping the record clean really makes what happened 48 years ago go away. Those remedies do not tell these nine men, and the rest of the world, that the arrests and convictions never should have happened. That the system and the law was wrong.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, said it's clear that the Friendship Nine "were in the right."
A pardon, Brackett said, seems hollow because these men should not have to be forgiven. The conviction under the laws of segregation were, "both unconstitutional and unconscionable." Further, Brackett said, he would meet with the men or anyone else to try to help find a solution through the legal system.
Brackett said maybe vacating the conviction, in which the courts rule the men should never have been convicted in the first place, is the best answer of all.
Something must be done. It is way late.
But not too late.
Today, there is a new restaurant where the restored lunch counter remains. It was restored because it matters to history. But there will be no ceremony today: these nine men will not sit on the stools that bear each of their names. They have lived long, productive lives, raised families.
Other than McCullough, who died in 2006, eight American heroes still walk among us. They carry their conviction for having the guts to fight legal segregation in every step.
Yet, if people within the legal system and the political system are willing to figure a way to right how the Friendship Nine was wronged 48 years ago, if those people have the guts, Williamson said he and the others would be willing to listen.
"I am not looking for anything," Williamson said. "I made peace with this long ago. But if offered, I think we would accept it."
The Friendship Nine never asked for anything but equality. But all have shown each is willing to accept people willing to apologize.
Even 48 years late.