Rock Hill civil rights hero pens book - Marching With the Spirit: The Friendship Nine

Retired lawyer John A. Gaines has written a book about his experiences as a member of the Friendship Nine, a famed group of college students who were jailed after a 1961 lunch counter protest in Rock Hill.

Gaines not only writes about the experience of their confinement and labors on a county chain gang, but also chronicles his work as a lawyer and freedom fighter and offers his opinions about the future of civil rights.

Although he spent nearly 20 years finishing the book, “Marching With the Spirit: The Friendship Nine – a memoir of the movement that initiated Jail, No Bail,” the manuscript “wasn’t a hard thing to write because it was experiences you’ll never forget,” Gaines said.

Gaines was one of nine Friendship Junior College students who spent 30 days in jail in 1961 after being convicted of trespassing for sitting down at the lunch counter of the all-white McCrory’s in Rock Hill. They chose a month of hard labor on the chain gang over paying a $100 fine, and their sacrifice reignited the civil rights movement.

After graduating from Howard University School of Law, Gaines began practicing criminal and civil rights law in Florence in 1970.

Gaines said his experiences influenced his journey through law school and while practicing law, including providing first-hand guidance to his clients. “I would tell them don’t give up on anything,” Gaines said. “We have the right to peacefully assemble and protest.”

He was influenced in his career by former NAACP board member Matthew J. Perry, Jr., who served as the first African-American federal judge in South Carolina, and former chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court Ernest A. Finney Jr.

Gaines said although it was easy to write about his and others’ experiences, it was a lot of work to assemble the book.

“I covered a lot of territory and this book will be great for African-American students to see where we were and how far we have come,” Gaines said. “It’s a great lesson for college kids.”

Gaines chuckled and said the Friendship Nine members were pressuring him to get the book finished. He said he shared his draft with colleague Clarence Graham before Graham passed away last month. Gaines sat down with all the members who are still living to gather their stories and experiences since college to include in the book.

Gaines had close friends and relatives proofread the book and is awaiting a review of the final copy.

Soft cover copies of the book are scheduled for release April 26. It will also be available online as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.

Book signing dates and times have yet to be announced, although Gaines said he hopes the first signings can be at Winthrop University.