The Friendship 9 made a point.
Nine college students were arrested in 1961 at a lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The charge? Eating at a ”whites-only” restaurant. They pled innocent to trespassing. They were found guilty. They served 30 days of hard time in prison.
The Civil War ended slavery in America. It did not end segregation. The segregation system was called “Jim Crow.” Black people went to separate schools. They sat at the back of the bus. They had to stay in their own hotels and eat in their own restaurants.
The modern civil rights movement started in the 1950s with the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. It launched the career of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The movement grew with the lunch counter arrests of the students. They all attended Friendship College in South Carolina. They came to be called ‘The Friendship 9.”
Segregation was most widely practiced in the southern states of the U.S. The protest of the Friendship 9 became a model for activists all over the South,
In the 55 years since, America has progressed to a fully integrated society.
However, the Friendship 9 were still people with a “ prison record.”
Last Wednesday a South Carolina court came to order. A judge read the names of each of the Friendship 9. Each man stood or raised a hand when called. Each face was grave.
“Offense, trespassing,” the judge said after each name. “Disposition: guilty. Sentence: $100, or 30 days. Conditions: Sent to chain gang.”
On this day, the State of South Carolina would unburden these men of their criminal records. It vacated the charges filed against them 54 years ago.
A white prosecutor spoke on behalf of the justice system. He apologized. The judge, who is also white, told the men they should never have been charged in the first place.
“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history,” said the judge. “Now, as to the Friendship 9, is the time and opportunity to do so. Now is the time to recognize that justice is not temporal but is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
An observer said South Carolina is saying that, “instead of handcuffs and shackles, prison bars and hard labor on a chain gang, these young black people were right and the state that made segregation the law was wrong.”
It was a moment of great meaning to the men and great meaning to our justice system.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor January 28, 2015
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