COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Legislature on Tuesday honored nine men who went to jail to protest segregated lunch counters in Rock Hill at the beginning of the civil rights movement.
The Friendship 9 were invited to Columbia exactly three months after a judge tossed out their trespassing convictions from 1961 for refusing to leave the “whites only” section of a McCrory variety store.
They visited a meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus before proclamations thanking them for their protests were read in the House and Senate.
On the floors of both chambers, black lawmakers gathered around to thank the men for paving the way for the next generation of leaders. They were joined by former Chief Justice Ernest Finney, who was their lawyer in 1961. He later became the first African-American to serve as South Carolina’s top judge.
“We were able to make major contributions to South Carolina by standing on your shoulders,” Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, said.
Minutes earlier, the Friendship 9 were honored on the House floor. Twelve other black lawmakers joined Rep. John King. The Democrat from Rock Hill said they all owed their ability to serve to the courage of the group convicted in 1961 of trespassing when they refused to leave a “whites-only” lunch counter.
After their trespassing convictions, the men could have paid a $100 fine. But instead, they chose to spend 30 days in jail to protest the law in a tactic that became known in civil rights circles as “jail, no bail.”