Students across Rock Hill celebrated Martin Luther King Day in school Monday, but Finley Road Elementary students received a special guest.
"We decided we were going to sit," said the Rev. W.T. "Dub" Massey, one of the Friendship Junior College students who on Jan. 31, 1961, took a stand against segregation and sat down at McCrory's lunch counter on Main Street in Rock Hill.
Massey visited Finley Road Elementary on Monday to lead a "peace parade" through the hallways and to share his story with students.
He joined students after a day packed with activities inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Students watched videos and made head bands decorated with symbols of peace. They marched with giant banners bearing messages:
"War is over if you want it."
"We are peace makers."
One banner read "I have a dream" followed by the students' wishes:
"... that everyone will be treated equal."
"... that war would end ..."
"... that forever we have freedom."
After the parade, Massey told students what it was like to be "trained" in nonviolent civil disobedience - how he'd get pushed down and called names, but he couldn't fight back.
He told them how he and his friends were arrested and paid for their peaceful protest with 30 days of hard labor on the chain gang. And when the Friendship students - the Friendship 9, as they came to be known - were finally released, the police "never arrested us again, because they had nothing to frighten us," he said.
The students asked questions: whether they had known they were going to get arrested when they sat down, whether Massey is as tall as Martin Luther King Jr., or the same age, or whether they ever met.
Massey chuckled and replied he was younger than King but probably just as tall ("or short"). And while he never met King, they were both committed to nonviolent protest.
Massey also told students that yes, he and the eight others who took their seats knew they'd be arrested and made a pact to take the jail time over paying bond.
While Finley Road Principal Al Bogan believes holidays are better spent at home, he thought the students had a good day, especially because Massey came by.
"They got to hear a speaker that not many people get to hear," he said.
Rock Hill schools district Superintendent Lynn Moody agreed.
"They certainly made the best of the situation and turned it into a true learning opportunity," Moody said. "It was a great day for a teachable moment," she said after talking with teachers around the district.
Most of the district's schools used the MLK Day holiday to teach topics they would normally cover the Friday before, Moody said. Only the high schools, which are preparing for exams, didn't focus on MLK Day-related topics.
As a current event, the debate over having school on MLK Day is also a teachable moment teachers might choose to bring into the classroom, Moody said.
The district will use the day to learn something about students and their families.
Any time something unusual happens at school - late starts, half-days and makeup days - the district analyzes attendance records to see who misses school and why.
Holidays are no different, Moody said.
"We will try to look at the demographic to see how many students were out because of MLK for a variety of reasons," she said. "We want to look for patterns and trends that make sense to us."
In a move criticized by some civil rights groups, the Rock Hill and Fort Mill school districts used Monday - when schools usually are closed for the federal holiday - to make up one of last week's snow days.
Teacher workdays, when students don't attend, are designated "makeup" days in case schools close for bad weather. But because of state budget cuts, the Rock Hill and Fort Mill districts decided to make up for lost funding by furloughing teachers on teacher workdays.
The Rock Hill school board voted last year to designate MLK Day as a weather makeup day along with Presidents Day and Memorial Day. State law requires districts to set aside three weather makeup days.
Now the district is out of holidays to use as makeup days and might be forced "to make some difficult choices" about which days to use moving forward, Moody said.
"None of them are good options," she said. They include having school on Saturdays, or during spring break, or after graduation.