What if the Friendship Nine protested today?

Editor’s note: What follows is what our news story might look like if The Herald were covering the Friendship Nine’s sit-in today.

A group of black students from Friendship Junior College and a local civil rights activist were arrested Tuesday after they sat down for service at a whites-only lunch counter at McCrory’s Five and Dime in downtown Rock Hill.

Tuesday’s sit-in was the latest in a string of protests around Rock Hill and across the South, staged by mostly black protesters demanding an end to segregation.

“What we are doing is right,” said one of the students, 18-year-old Clarence Graham. “It isn’t like going to jail for stealing, killing, etc., but we are going for the betterment of all blacks.”

The eight other Friendship students charged with trespassing and taken to the Rock Hill City Jail along with Graham were James Wells, David Williamson, Willie McCleod and Mack Workman, all 18; W.T. Massey, John Gaines and Robert McCullough, all 19; and Charles Taylor, 22. Thomas Gaither, 22, of Great Falls, an organizer with the Congress of Racial Equality, also was arrested.

The men are all awaiting trial in Rock Hill Municipal Court. Sumter attorney Ernest A. Finney is representing the group.

McCrory’s, like many Rock Hill establishments, has been the site of previous demonstrations. The lunch counter at the Woolworth’s Variety Store next door has been closed for several weeks.

Witnesses say the 10 men walked from the Friendship Junior College campus on Allen Street to the downtown area at around 11:30 a.m. They, along with a few women, marched in protest along Main Street for a few minutes outside McCrory’s.

Then the men went inside the store, sat down at the lunch counter and ordered food. When McCrory’s employees and the manager told them to leave, the students didn’t respond. Police officers then moved in and physically removed the protesters, who did not resist.

Witnesses say several white bystanders shouted at the students as they were arrested and spit on them. Unlike previous protests, there were no attempts at violence by onlookers.

Inez Graham said her son, Clarence Graham, did not tell his parents about the group’s plans to protest at McCrory’s.

“I am very worried,” she said. “We’re just going to have to put our trust in God.”

The Rev. Cecil Ivory, president of the Rock Hill branch of the NAACP, said his organization was not behind the protest.

“We would like to believe (the NAACP) could inspire these men to such cause of dedication,” he said, “but we did not organize this action.”

If convicted of trespassing, the men each face fines of $100 or 30 days in jail at the York County Prison Farm.

“That’s what we do in every case where a man is jailed for several days,” said Rock Hill Police Chief W.S. Rhodes. “This case is no exception.”

If they follow the precedent set by previous protesters who have been arrested and convicted, the students will pay the fines and go free.

City Judge Billy Hayes is scheduled to preside over the case in Rock Hill Municipal Court on Wednesday morning.