The surviving members of the “Friendship Nine” will be exonerated this month, 54 years after the group of black men was jailed for sitting at an all-white lunch counter.
The Friendship Nine gained notoriety in 1961 for being the first U.S. civil rights protesters to serve jail time for a sit-in protest. The group served 30-day sentences doing hard labor at the county prison farm in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Most of the eight surviving members of the Friendship Nine plan to return to South Carolina this month for the hearing, which will be held in a courtroom about 500 yards from where the sit-in occurred at a segregated McCrory’s lunch counter, Reuters reported.
The convictions are among a number of decades-old cases that have been recently revisited across the South as courts acknowledge racial injustice in the criminal justice system, Reuters reported.
The men’s records will still reflect their arrests but will show they were not guilty of a crime, Solicitor Kevin Brackett told Reuters.
“What these gentlemen did was take a courageous stand against an obnoxious and vile policy,” Mr. Brackett said. “It’s important that we publicly and legally recognize the wrongfulness of those convictions.”
Group members said the push to clear their names more than 50 years after the fact will have little effect on their lives today. Still, they welcome the message it sends at a time of heightened racial tensions in America, Reuters reported.
“For the generations that are here now and for the future, it shows that the country was wrong,” said one of the men, Willie McCleod, 72.