“We have lost a soldier for equality. David Boone was a great man,” said David Williamson Jr., one of the Friendship Nine civil rights protesters from the early 1960s, who is a life-long friend of Boone.
Boone spent more than six decades fighting for racial equality and helping the poor. He had been bedridden for months since stopping cancer treatments.
Boone had served at St. Mary Catholic Church in Rock Hill since the late 1950s, and even after his retirement a few years ago. He came to The Oratory, the Catholic group that oversees area Catholic parishes, as a teenager and spent his life pushing for equality.
Boone was a Catholic brother. He grew up in Kentucky, but joined the religious life as a teen. He opted to keep his vows as a brother, rather than become a priest. However, like Catholic priests, Boone took vows of chastity, poverty and service. He never married and had no children.
He came to Rock Hill in the late 1950s, and stayed here the rest of his life. He worked with priests and other clerics to assist the community. His job for decades was church administrator at St. Mary, which was created after World War II to serve black Catholics in Rock Hill.
Boone tried to always give credit to others, and shunned the spotlight.
In his last interview, in early June, Boone said of his life’s work: “I have no regrets, not one, except this: I wish I could have done more.”
Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols said his heart was heavy Monday when he was told by city officials that Boone had died.
“Brother David Boone was a great humanitarian, and this entire city, this whole community, mourns his death,” Echols said. “This is a man whose life was spent seeking racial justice, racial equality and racial harmony. His effect on this community will be remembered forever.”
Echols said it is up to the rest of the community to continue Boone’s legacy.
“Brother David lived his life with courage and compassion, and worked tirelessly to draw people together for the betterment of our community,” Echols said. “He strove for a world where diversity is celebrated, where our commonalities outshine our differences. He embodied the notion of serving with love, giving selflessly, humbly and respectfully, and encouraged others to do the same. The best way to honor Brother David’s legacy is by continuing the shining example he set.”
Boone’s name is on one of the stools at the lunch counter in Rock Hill where the Friendship Nine protesters were arrested in 1961 when fighting segregation. Boone is the only white person honored at the lunch counter. He also worked to desegregate Rock Hill’s recreation leagues and co-founded The Dorothy Day soup kitchen more than 30 years ago.
Before the food was served Monday, clients at the soup kitchen, and the volunteers who worked there, said a prayer in Boone’s honor.
“Brother David’s life showed us what we all can do,” said Bev Carroll, who co-founded the soup kitchen with Boone. “His life, and now his death, means we all have to step up to the plate and carry on.”
Boone’s stance as a white person who denounced bigotry, in an era when segregation and Jim Crow laws were dominant, made him the subject of derision and even death threats.
When he came to Rock Hill in the late 1950s, he immediately worked on a boycott of segregated city taxis and buses. After that, he was part of the “Jail, No Bail” movement in Rock Hill, which became a national model for civil rights. The Friendship Nine opted to spend a month in jail in 1961 after the members were convicted of trespassing, rather than pay the $100 bail or fine to avoid the jail sentence. The “Jail, No bail” idea took hold in other Southern states, as it brought attention to civil rights struggles.
Boone also spent much of his life working with the poor. At one point, he operated a credit union for black people who had no access to credit.
Boone remained, until the end of his life, on the leadership board of the Rock Hill NAACP and with the Friendship Nine committee, which worked to have the mens’ records vacated. That happened in 2015 in court hearing that made national news. Boone had acted as an adviser to the protesters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and remained close with them the rest of his life.
Friendship Nine member Willie McCleod, like fellow Williamson Jr., knew Boone for decades.
“Brother David was brave,” McCleod said. “He had the bravery to say we were all equal in those days, when some didn’t believe it.”
York Mayor Eddie Lee, who knew Boone for more than 50 years, said Boone was “humble, gracious and fearless to the end.”
“Brother David was a peaceful warrior for human rights,” Lee said.
In recent decades, Boone has been honored in Rock Hill with a building named for him at Carolina Community Actions on Oakland Avenue, and he has received other city, county and state recognition for his work.
Just last week, although Boone was too ill to attend, he was honored at Rock Hill’s civil rights walkway.
In his last interview, an exclusive with The Herald in June, Boone said he was proud to have been part of the fight for equality for all.
“My life has been very fulfilling, in the work that I have done,” Boone said. “I have drawn people closer to the Lord. If people see a difference in the races, something is wrong with them. God is all colors. No one should have a problem relating to anyone of a different color.”
Friends will be received at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17 at St. Mary Catholic Church, 902 Crawford Road, Rock Hill, church officials said. A funeral mass will be 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 18 at the church.