Andrew Dys

Groundbreaking Saturday for historic civil rights college center

Something special will happen Saturday morning in Rock Hill, in a grassy field west of downtown on Allen Street that does not have a single building on it anymore.

A shovel will be shoved into the earth to start a building – just as a shovel was shoved into the same ground 121 years before to start a building, on the same exact spot.

Back in 1891, a single building was started, and a place to educate black students named Friendship College was born.

Call this groundbreaking in 2012 – although a college is not in the plans – something of a rebirth.

Saturday is the 121st Founders Day at Friendship.

Trustees, alumni and benefactors of the college that operated from 1891 until 1981 – and was a focal point in the civil rights movement that swept across the American South in the 1950s and 1960s – will on the old college grounds ceremonially start building a community center/alumni hall/training center.

Friendship Junior College, which was run by the Baptist church, may not be a college any more, but its history and its continued commitment to Rock Hill and the success of young people remain, said the Rev. John Robinson, a Friendship alumnus and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Sandy River branch for York and Chester counties. The Baptist convention owns the property.

“What it means to again have a physical presence on the grounds, to provide to people of all races, of all means, a place of coming together, is historic,” Robinson said.

“We intend for this building to enhance the lives of young people, and again provide a Friendship presence that helps young people of York County and surrounding areas into great careers and lives.”

Friendship students were crucial to integration of not just colleges, but all walks of Southern life. Several hundred Friendship students protested segregated Rock Hill and South Carolina society in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1961, after two years of protests by Friendship students that resulted in hundreds of arrests, a group of Friendship students asked for service at a whites-only lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill.

After they were arrested, they opted to stay in jail for a month at the York County prison farm rather than paying a fine to go home after their arrests.

The “Jail, No Bail” strategy by eight students and a civil rights organizer – the men were dubbed the “Friendship Nine” – made Friendship Junior College part of American history forever.

The strategy rekindled civil rights protests around the South that led to the eradication of segregation.

Several of those protesters will be on hand Saturday at the campus just south of Mount Prospect Baptist Church on Black Street.

“The school has a history of service and community that made Rock Hill and York County, and our state and country, a stronger nation,” said Clarence Graham, one of the Friendship Nine and a Friendship alumnus.

Friendship closed when enrollment dwindled after integration of South Carolina colleges, but for 90 years the school was a springboard for mainly black students toward four-year schools.

Just as importantly, Friendship provided technical education in skilled trades to generations of blacks.

The center, to be called the J.H. Goudlock Building in honor of the school’s president from 1933 to 1973, will cost about $1.1 million. More than $800,000 has already been raised.

Saturday, alumni will also continue to ask for support to finish the project. Construction is expected to start in mid-June.

The closing of the school in 1981 after financial problems, and a subsequent fire at the campus, forced demolition of what was left of campus buildings.

The greatness of Friendship and its alumni, who have gone on to distinguished careers in medicine, law, politics, teaching and religion, for more than 20 years, has had no physical presence other than a granite obelisk marker and a small arch street-side.

The groundbreaking after years of fundraising will “make believers out of doubters,” said the Rev. Richard A. Graham, secretary of Friendship’s board of trustees.

“This center will be for everyone,” Graham said. “It will help young people do what Friendship did for almost a century – give hope for the future.

“The Friendship name has always meant friendship for all people – and with this new building, it always will.”