South Carolina judge vacates ‘Friendship Nine’ convictions

South Carolina judge vacates ‘Friendship Nine’ convictions

[JURIST] South Carolina Circuit Court judge John Hayes III [official websites] on Wednesday overturned the 54-year-old convictions of nine African American student-activists jailed during the civil rights movement. Arrested while undertaking a lunch counter sit-in, the “Friendship Nine”—Clarence Graham, Mack Workman, Robert McCollough, David Williamson, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, WT Massey, James Frank Wells and Willie McCleod—were removed from McCrory’s Variety Store in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on January 31, 1961. Convicted of trespassing, Judge B Drennan Hayes, John Hayes’ uncle, gave the men a choice between a $100 fine or 30 days on the county chain gang. Opting for the 30 days labor, the men began the ‘jail, no bail’ movement [PBS backgrounder], ending the practice of cities profiting on civil rights protesters through fines. The men experienced substantial hardship for many years following the verdict, being harassed and denied jobs for having taken a stand. While signing the order to vacate the convictions of the Friendship Nine and several other student-activists jailed during the civil rights movement, Hayes noted, “we cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”

Civil rights and discrimination remain important and controversial issues in the US. Earlier this month Ayanna Thomas of St. John University School of Law discussed racial discrimination against African Americans in the workplace [JURIST op-ed], a relevant issue in the US. Racial discrimination is not limited to being perpetrated against African Americans, however, as earlier this month the American Civil Liberties Union settled a claim against the US government challenging the constitutionality of detaining Muslim men [JURIST report] as material witnesses without sufficient cause.