The 1961 trespassing convictions of nine men who staged a sit-in at a Rock Hill, South Carolina lunch counter—the “Friendship Nine,” so named for the local college many of them attended—have been vacated by a judge. Writes Reuters: “Lawyers and a judge agreed it was time to correct the record to show that the group’s decision to stand up to racial injustice was not a crime.”
The men refused to post bail or have bail posted on their behalf and served 30-day sentences at a country prison farm. (For trespassing!) The attorney who represented then in 1961 also represented them in court today, and the judge who threw out their convictions is a nephew of the judge who first sentenced them. Eight of the nine men are still alive.
An author named Kimberly Johnson had pushed for the men’s exoneration after writing a children’s book called No Fear for Freedom about their case. From an earlier Reuters piece:
Solicitor Kevin Brackett, who since 2006 has overseen prosecutions in the judicial circuit that includes Rock Hill, said past suggestions to expunge the men’s records or pursue pardons seemed inappropriate because those strategies would erase an important part of history or imply the men were seeking forgiveness.
Prodded by Kimberly Johnson to take another look, Brackett settled upon a different tactic. On Jan. 28, he will argue that the men’s convictions for trespassing should be thrown out because their skin color was the sole reason for their arrests.
“For the generations that are here now and for the future,” said 72-year-old Willie McCleod, one of the Nine, “it shows that the country was wrong.”
Correction, Jan. 28, 2015: This post originally misspelled Willie McCleod’s name.