Andrew Dys

Activist's family carrying the torch

Lauren Carter starts kindergarten next week. She has a few months to ready her Black History Month project.

It will be about her grandfather. She can't bring him to class because he died this week.

Robert McCullough was five feet, 4 1/2 inches tall.

All he did was change the world.

McCullough at age 19, along with eight other black students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College, sat down at the McCrory's whites-only lunch counter on Rock Hill's Main Street on Jan 31, 1961. All got arrested.

Their crime was being black.

McCullough and the others, dubbed the Friendship Nine, spent a month in jail and on a chain gang. McCullough at 64 was the first of the group to die.

Today his family will bury him. The other eight of the Friendship Nine will be honorary pallbearers.

Anyone who lives or works in Rock Hill, of any color, shoulders this casket.

Quiet achievement

Lauren, just 4 years old, never got to hear her grandfather explain why he did it. McCullough's only child, daughter Tracey Carter, didn't know herself until she was off to college that her father sat at that counter.

Lauren and younger brother Zachary will have to hear from Carter and their grandmother, Mary.

"He was quiet about it," Carter said. "He internalized a lot. He didn't look for anything from it."

McCullough didn't look for glory but glory looked for him. The Piedmont Regional Association of Realtors bought the McCrory's building and will keep the lunch counter as a memorial. As early as November -- the stools where the black fannies sat in defiance of Jim Crow are being rechromed -- people will be able to see the counter and stools, said Butch Brindel, CEO of the Realtors' group.

People will be able to look at those stools and wonder what the heck was going on in people's minds in 1961 that blacks couldn't sit next to whites and get a grilled cheese and a Coke.

Civil rights came after the Friendship Nine. Slowly. It only took nine years after McCullough went to jail for Rock Hill schools to integrate.

Segregation was an infection. Some say the chancre still lingers.

At Robinson Funeral Home Friday around noon, staff hung around like people do at funeral homes. They took phone calls about Robert McCullough's funeral today. One call came from The New York Times. McCullough's death even made the Tom Joyner morning radio show, the top-rated black show in America.

Changed the world, Robert McCullough did, they all said.

Mary McCullough, married to "Rob" since Nov. 22, 1969, remembered how they met. Both worked at Celanese: She in extruding, Rob in the computer room. The short, dapper Air Force veteran who was so smart swept her off her feet in a shake.

But he didn't court her by saying he was a member of the Friendship Nine. "It never came up until a long time after, and then he never talked about it unless it was a reunion and they were all together laughing about it," Mary McCullough said. "He was humble about it."

Rob McCullough's daughter is married, raising a family. She has one hope for people who think they can't fight city hall or social stereotypes or anything else.

"I just hope somebody will walk through the doors my father helped open," Carter said.

Carter had to stop talking Friday afternoon. Because she and her husband, and her mother, had to get ready to bury the man who broke down the door.