A Rock Hill civil rights legend was honored Sunday in York.
A plaque now marks the classroom at York One Academy where Willie T. “Dub” Massey, one of the group of Rock Hill, South Carolina protesters dubbed the Friendship Nine, taught.
Massey, a student at what then was Friendship Jr. College in Rock Hill, was arrested along with eight of his peers in 1961 for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter in Rock Hill. They followed the “Jail no Bail” strategy, which meant they would spend 30 days doing hard labor rather than pay a fine.
The Friendship Nine’s convictions were overturned in 2015.
Massey earned his Bachelor of Science from Johnson C. Smith University. He holds a masters in school counseling and education specialist degrees from Winthrop University, according to a biography written for the Sunday program. Massey also holds a doctoral degree from Agape Bible College in Gastonia, N.C., where he later served as a professor.
Massey taught sixth grade in what once was the all-black Jefferson School. Local leaders honored Massey’s impact in the community with a plaque outside his old classroom.
York school district Superintendent Kelly Coxe presented Massey with his own copy of the plaque.
“I am completely honored to be here, to be part of this celebration,” Coxe said. “I myself, as an educator, we consider ourselves children’s rights advocates. The work could not be done if it were not for people like you.”
Steve Love, York County council member and member of the Western York County NAACP, said Massey was more than a teacher. Love described Massey as a “life coach.”
“He is a community icon,” Love said. “We wanted to honor him while he was still here.”
Rep. John King, D-York, presented an American flag to Massey. He said the flag flew on top of the state capital.
“Every African-American that serves in any political office in this state owes a debt of gratitude to you and the Friendship Nine,” King told Massey.
York Mayor Eddie Lee declared Feb. 24, 2019, as Friendship Nine Day during the ceremony. He said Sunday marked the 58-year anniversary of when the Friendship Nine members were released from jail.
“The world changed,” Lee said of that day.
Carlton Brown, president of the Western York County NAACP chapter, said Massey also is a hero who “changed the lives of literally millions of people across this country.”
“I don’t know if many of us can understand or comprehend what it must have meant to live in a deeply segregated South Carolina ... and to live in a system that was designed to oppress and repress people,” Brown said. “And yet as a teenager, you have the courage to find a cause and be willing to stand up for the cause regardless of the consequence.”
Kim Johnson, author of “No Fear for Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9” said the group helped reawaken the civil rights movement.
“You have shifted the atmosphere in York County,” Johnson told Massey.
Johnson said examples such as the Friendship Nine’s actions must be used to teach young people how to bring change to the world.
“The civil rights movement had stalled. It was stagnant because things had become complacent,” Johnson said. “I’m afraid if we don’t shift up the atmosphere with our new generation of thinkers, the past is going to come back to haunt us.”
“It’s time for us to do everything that we can while we’re still here,” he told the crowd. “I am going to do everything that I can for every child who is stranded.”