In January of 1961, Rock Hill was about to be placed on the national stage for the Civil Rights Movement. For the past year, students at Friendship College in Rock Hill were training for a peaceful sit-in to protest segregation under the leadership of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) field organizer Thomas Gaither.
Sit-ins had been taking place at McCrory's Five & Dime following the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina a year prior.
On January 31st, nine students and Thomas Gaither walked nearly a mile from Friendship College to McCrory’s Five & Dime on Main Street. While the planned sit-in was not publicized, the Friendship 9 state that the streets were lined with officers, including state law enforcement, encouraging them to not enter and start trouble. The 10 entered McCrory's two at a time, being arrested after immediately sitting down.
Nine of those 10 men declined to pay the $100 in bail money and instead were jailed for 30 days at the York County Detention Center. While there the men were forced to work hard labor on the chain gang, placed in solitary confinement, and even created a barbed fence in preparation for the mass amounts of visitors to the detention center.
Read "Jailed-In" a first-hand account of the sit-in and time in jail, written by Thomas Gaither for CORE in April of 1961 here.
*a special thanks to the Rock Hill Herald for many of the historic pictures inside the video*
“The NAACP was doling out 100 dollar bills every time someone got arrested, that was a lot of money, so with this idea it was the reverse of that,” said Mr. Willie Mcleod in an interview with Visit York County in 2018.
As news spread of the nine men being jailed, protesters would flock to Rock Hill. This SNCC article states that students were bussed in from Nashville even to support their arrests. A group of 7 women, who were in the same class at Friendship College, now known as the City Girls, marched alongside the Friendship 9 and continued to march in protest of their arrests. They did not participate in the sit-in because of the dangers of being arrested and jailed.
The phrase “Jail, No Bail” began to emerge and the tactic began being used across the Southeast and became extremely valuable during the Freedom Rides, which would stop in Rock Hill just a few months later.
The nine men had the charges vacated from their record in 2015 by the nephew of the judge that original sentences. The Friendship 9 sit-in has been named as a stop on the United States Civil Rights Trail.
Walk in the Footsteps of the Friendship 9 and City Girls:
While much has changed since 1961, many organizations within York County have worked to honor those that were integral in social justice work for York County. Mr. David Williamson, one of the Friendship 9, says these stops are important for any visitor, “It’s about more than us. There are other people that made significant accomplishments along this road, black and white, it’s important that they get to see the other people and know about the history of Rock Hill.”
You can follow history’s path by visiting the following locations below:
Start at Friendship College:
While Friendship College closed it’s doors in 1981 and was later torn down, the fence and signage for the college still remains. Visiting this location gives you a sense of where these men started their walk on January 31st to get to the lunch counter. There is a memorial here honoring those men by the church as well.
Visit the Lunch counter:
The original lunch counter and metal chairs remain in the former diner’s space. You can walk the mile from the college or drive to Main Street to get there. Kounter, the newly opened restaurant, celebrates the work of the Friendship 9. Inside you'll find the restored original lunch counter and stools and the names of the Friendship 9 etched into the wall.
Read the Historic Marker:
A historical marker outside the diner’s space stands on Main Street for visitors to read about the sit-in and the Friendship 9’s impact on segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.This is n
Visit Heritage Hallway:
If you walk into the doors by the historic marker, you will see the Heritage Hallway. The hallway has several wall hangings that show pictures from the sit-in, the Friendship 9, and McCrory’s Diner. These pictures also have text with them giving you the history of the event.
Walk Freedom Walkway:
Visitors can also walk down the Freedom Walkway, an alley just steps from the diner. This walkway holds a mural that honors the history of the social justice strides that have been made in the Rock Hill community. You can find the meanings of the pieces within the mural here. At the end of the alley, you’ll find descriptions about those that were an integral part in making change.
- Phyllis Thompson Hyatt
- Peggy Archie Long
- Olivette McClurkin
- Essie Porter Ramseur
- Lucille Wallace Reese
- Patricia Hinton Sims
- Elsie White Springs
A special thanks to the Friendship 9, The City Girls, Dr. Gladys Robinson, Sonja Burris, and the Rock Hill Herald for their assistance in this project.