Fifty-four years ago, things were very different in South Carolina where African-Americans were not allowed to sit and eat lunch at segregated lunch counters. One group of primarily students from Friendship College, who called themselves "Friendship Nine," sought to change that through acts of peaceful protests. Although their college has since closed down, the positive results of the students' brave acts live on -- and so do the criminal records related to their protests.
Judge Plans to Reverse Convictions
Now, the civil rights protestors will have cause for celebration. It is expected that a judge will vacate the group members' trespassing convictions, which are now 54 years old. The charges relate to an incident on Jan. 31, 1961, when the Friendship Nine group sat down at a whites-only lunch counter and refused to budge. They were soon arrested, found guilty and sent to jail.
Rather than paying bail or fighting the charges, they chose to serve their jail sentences, which was a part of the popular "jail, no bail" civil rights protesting strategy at the time. According to an African-American studies director from a university in Rock Hill, the Friendship Nine group helped to invigorate the sit-in movement with this brave act of peaceful defiance of existing laws.
Represented by the Same Civil Rights Defense Attorney
In the legal proceedings to absolve them of their trespassing conviction, the Friendship Nine group will be represented by the same attorney whose defense failed 54 years ago. That attorney, Ernest Finney, Jr., is a civil rights attorney who later served as Chief Justice of South Carolina's Supreme Court. The attorney's new legal motion on behalf of the men has received support by a local prosecutor and it says that the men would have been convicted of trespassing under current law, and that the decision should be reversed.
The lawyer argued that letting the convictions stand is just as abhorrent as it was to convict and punish the men with a 30-day jail term half a century ago. The men were forced to serve their time at a county prison farm. Several of these convicted men stated in recent interviews how difficult it was for them to have this criminal mark on their record in the years that followed their convictions.
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