People from Rock Hill, the Carolinas and across the nation filled a Rock Hill municipal courtroom Wednesday as the 54-year-old trespassing sentences of the Friendship Nine were vacated. Here are perspectives from several of those who watched:
Brother David Boone, Rock Hill
In 1961, protests weren’t working, said Brother David Boone, a longtime civil rights activist who was on the front lines of pickets and demonstrations.
On Wednesday, Boone sat in the front row of the courtroom, right behind those getting their convictions vacated. During his opening comments, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett acknowledged Boone, who got a loud round of applause.
“I’m elated over the occasion,” Boone said.
“We knew they were going to get results,” Boone said of the “Jail, No Bail” strategy. “We were sad about what they had to go through at the time.”
For many years, he didn’t talk with the Friendship Nine about their jail experiences. “The scars were too deep,” he said.
But Wednesday’s hearings put the events of 1961 in a positive light.
“We were wanting what everyone else had, which is freedom,” he said.
Flo Anderson, Rock Hill
Flo Anderson, a victims advocate in Rock Hill who has dedicated her life to helping children, was a spectator in court on Wednesday.
In 1961, she was just 11 years old and living in York. Her family learned about the Friendship Nine through their church.
“I remember my daddy saying if they go to jail, they might not come out the same way,” she said. “Being young, it was the fear I was experiencing.”
Through her teenage years, Anderson saw the world begin to change, slowly but surely, thanks, in part, to the Friendship Nine. But, she said, there is still work to be done in today’s society.
“This is not a white thing,” she said. “This is a community thing.”
Inez Graham, Rock Hill
Inez Graham, 91, the mother of Clarence Graham, is the sole surviving parent of any of the 1961 Friendship Nine protesters. She attended Wednesday’s court hearing, along with her other children and grandchildren.
Like the other protesters, Clarence Graham did not tell his parents, Inez and the late Julius Graham, that he would likely go to jail on Jan. 31, 1961. The night before Clarence Graham and the others protested in 1961, he wrote a letter to his mother saying he was doing what he must do for the betterment of all people.
Inez Graham said that she still believes at age 91 that her religious faith has helped her and others get through all of life’s obstacles, including nearly half of her life lived in segregation.
She said was proud to be able to attend and watch the convictions for trespass be vacated.
“I am proud of Rock Hill today,” Inez Graham said. “I have always been proud of Clarence and what he did. I still am.”
King-Boyd siblings, Chester
Every seat in the courtroom was filled, and so two of the three King-Boyd siblings – Caleb, 9, Christen, 8 – had to sit on the floor step in the aisle. They did not mind one bit.
Their late grandfather, Christopher King, was the first black mayor of Chester who fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for single member voting districts that would help blacks hold elective office. Their uncle, Democratic Rep. John King, now represents part of Rock Hill in the S.C. General Assembly.
“I got to see the Friendship Nine,” said Caleb.
Christen said that being there was important because “They helped all of us in America get our freedom.”
Steve Love, York
Steve Love, of York, active with the Western York County and South Carolina NAACP, said that he attended the Million Man March and the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, in 2009. But Wednesday’s court hearing vacating the convictions of the Friendship Nine was even more powerful because it was local.
“These men here, the protesters of that era, sought justice for everyone,” Love said. “This day, this is justice for them, but it is justice for everyone who has been denied equality.”
Martha Surratt, Boiling Springs, N.C.
You would have thought the Friendship Nine men and officials in court on Wednesday were touring rock stars or professional athletes who had just won a championship. Martha Surratt buzzed around the solicitor’s table and in the court hallway, asking for signatures.
“I was trying to get as many historical people as I could to sign my book...This is history that happens once in a person’s lifetime,” she said.
Surratt was holding “No Fear For Freedom: The Story Of The Friendship 9” by Kim Johnson. She’d gotten out of bed at 5:30 Wednesday morning in Boiling Springs, N.C., to travel to Rock Hill to see the Friendship Nine’s 1961 convictions erased.
“I remember going into the J.C. Penney department store and seeing a colored water fountain and a white water fountain,” she said. But, when her high school integrated, Surratt said, “I began to realize that I had been accepting things just the way they were ... and that was wrong.”
Seven of the Friendship Nine men have signed Surratt’s book. All of them, she said, are heroes. She’s still amazed, she said, “at their strength and courage to do these things.”
Compiled by Anna Douglas, Rachel Southmayd and Andrew Dys