Our Photographers Contact Us
Our Patrons Please Give Today Add Images Add History Our Work South Carolina Picture Project

Friendship Nine — Rock Hill, South Carolina

SC Picture Project  |  York County  |  Friendship Nine

Adopt A South Carolina Landmark
Friendship Nine

Two nationally-significant events occurred in Rock Hill during the Civil Rights Movement. The first happened when a group of African-American students staged a sit-in at the McCrory’s segregated lunch counter on the last day of January, 1961. The young men, all of whom attended Friendship Junior College, entered the restaurant, sat down, and ordered hamburgers, soft drinks, and coffee. They were refused service. When asked to leave, they declined and, in turn, were arrested.

McCrory's Lunch Counter (Now Five and Dine)

The former McCrory’s Lunch Counter now serves as the Five and Dine Restaurant.
(Michael Mascari of Blythewood, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The students were charged with trespassing and breach of peace. Ordered to spend 30 days in jail or pay a fine of $100, nine of the ten chose to serve out their sentences and were sent to the York County Prison Farm for hard labor. While sit-ins had taken place in Rock Hill for over a year by that point, little progress had been made. Rock Hill, led by the White Citizens Council, remained deeply segregated, and local media no longer covered the protests.

McCrory's Lunch Counter Seating

Plaques adorn each chair where the Friendship Nine sat.
(Michael Mascari of Blythewood, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

This sit-in was unique, however, in that it was organized by students and employed the relatively new “jail, no bail” method of resistance. This method, supported by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called on activists to serve their jail time rather than pay a fine and concede guilt. In Rock Hill alone, the black community had already spent $17,000 on bail related to Civil Rights activities.

Rock Hill Historic Marker

Stanley and Terrie Howard, HMdb, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In addition to hard labor, the students were subjected to solitary confinement and food rations during their confinement. Forty-six years later, in 2007, the City of Rock Hill unveiled a marker outside of the old McCrory’s in the their honor. Eight of the men were still living and present at the ceremony. The restaurant changed hands in 1993 and again in 2013 and is currently known as the Five and Dine. Plaques on the backs of chairs mark the locations where the members of the Friendship Nine sat. The plaques commemorate the following brave souls: John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Graham, Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, Willie Massey, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., and Mack Workman. (The tenth student, Charles Taylor, decided to pay his fine for fear of losing his scholarship.)

Friendship Nine Historic Marker

In 2015, Judge John C. Hayes, III overturned the convictions of all nine men, saying, “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.” Ernest A. Finney, Jr., who initially represented the men, was selected that same year as the first African-American Chief Justice for the State of South Carolina since Reconstruction.

John Lewis and the Rock Hill Freedom Ride

The Friendship Nine were successful in attracting national media attention, but Rock Hill’s deep-seated segregation persisted. As a response, in May of 1961, Freedom Riders came to York County.

Segregation is America's Shame Protest in Rock Hill

South Caroliniana Library, Digital Collections, 1961

Freedom Riders were Civil Rights activists who rode buses into segregated areas to challenge those who refused to comply with Supreme Court decisions overturning segregation in the cases of Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960). Southern states blatantly ignored these rulings, and the federal government had done nothing to enforce them.

Thirteen Freedom Riders boarded buses in Washington, DC, and when Civil Rights leader John Lewis and another black man exited the bus in Rock Hill, they were ambushed. A mob of white men attacked them, knocking them unconscious for attempting to enter a “whites only” waiting room. The mob was led by a member of the Ku Klux Klan named Elwin Wilson. This event was also the subject of nationwide media attention.

In 1987, John Lewis became a US Congressman in Georgia. He returned to Rock Hill in 2002 where he was invited to speak at Winthrop University. During the ceremony, Lewis was given a key to the city for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. In February of 2009, Lewis sat down with his former attacker, Elwin Wilson, where he received an apology on national television from Wilson, who said he had realized the error of his ways.

Friendship Nine Info

Address: 135 East Main Street, Rock Hill, SC 29730
GPS Coordinates: 34.925587,-81.026828
Website: http://friendship9.org/

Friendship Nine Map

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you enjoy this page? Do you have any information we should add? Send us your comments below — we can't wait to hear from you!

6 Comments about Friendship Nine

SC Picture Project says:
December 2nd, 2019 at 9:59 am

Hi Isabella! Most articles on this site were created by more than one person, working together over time, so in this case, the author would be South Carolina Picture Project, or if you need an editor’s name, you can cite Robin Welch. Thanks for asking and good luck with your project!

Isabella Benz says:
November 26th, 2019 at 11:39 am

I’m an eighth-grade student at Ten Oaks Middle and I wanted to cite this website. However, there is no author so I was wondering if you could tell me?

James Parrish says:
January 31st, 2019 at 3:58 pm

One spelling error correct “taken” for “take” in second paragraph. Any others? I was present for the marches. Scared me totally.

SC Picture Project says:
November 30th, 2018 at 2:44 pm

Hey Ryleigh-Caroline, we apologize for our delay. What a great project you are doing! We do not have direct contact with any members of the Friendship 9, but we would recommend reaching out to a journalist who has done a newspaper story on them. He may be able to help get you in touch. Andrew Dys wrote an article for The Herald in 2018, located here: https://www.heraldonline.com/latest-news/article214550175.html. His email address is adys@heraldonline.com. We hope this helps you some and good luck!

Ryleigh-Caroline Williams says:
November 8th, 2018 at 2:13 pm

I’m an eighth-grade student at Socastee Middle School. Students in English I Honors are required to do a National History Day Project (NHD). We have to write a paper and create a project. I have 3 partners. We are wanting to get an interview with one or more of the Friendship 9 members and were wondering if you could help us. Thank you so much!

SCIWAY says:
April 24th, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Test comment


Join Us on Facebook
Follow Us on Instagram
See Us on Pinterest


Abbeville ACE Basin Adams Run Aiken Alcolu Allendale Anderson Awendaw Bamberg Banks Barns & Farms Barnwell Batesburg-Leesville Beaches Beaufort Beech Island Belton Bennettsville Bishopville Blackville Bluffton Branchville Bridges Bygone Landmarks Camden Carnegie Libraries Cayce Cemeteries Charleston Charleston Navy Base Cheraw Chester Chesterfield Churches Clemson Clinton Clio Colleges Columbia Conway Cordesville Courthouses Darlington Daufuskie Island Denmark Dillon Donalds Easley Edgefield Edisto Ehrhardt Elloree Eutawville Fairfax Florence Folly Beach Forests and Nature Preserves Fort Mill Fountain Inn Gaffney Garden City Beach Georgetown Glenn Springs Graniteville Great Falls Greeleyville Greenville Greenwood Greer Hamburg Hampton Hardeeville Hartsville Hemingway Hilton Head Historical Photos Historic Houses Hodges Holly Hill Honea Path Hopkins Hotels & Inns Huger Hunting Island Isle of Palms Jails James Island Jamestown Johns Island Johnsonville Johnston Kiawah Island Kingstree Lake City Lake Marion Lakes Lancaster Landrum Latta Laurens Lexington Libraries Lighthouses Little River Lowndesville Manning Marion Mars Bluff McClellanville McCormick Military Mills Moncks Corner Mountains Mount Carmel Mount Pleasant Mullins Murrells Inlet Myrtle Beach National Register Newberry Ninety Six North Augusta North Charleston North Myrtle Beach Orangeburg Pacolet Parks Pawleys Island Pendleton Pickens Piers Pinewood Pinopolis Plantations Pomaria Port Royal Post Offices Prosperity Ravenel Restaurants Ridgeland Ridge Spring Ridgeway Rivers Roadside Oddities Robert Mills Rock Hill Rockville Rosenwald Schools Salters Saluda Santee Savannah River Site SC Artists SC Heroes of the Alamo Schools Seneca Shrimp Boats Society Hill Spartanburg Sports Springs St. George St. Helena Island St. Matthews Stateburg Stores Sullivan's Island Summerton Summerville Sumter Sunset Synagogues Town Clocks Trains & Depots Trees Trenton Troy Turbeville Ulmer Union Wadmalaw Island Walhalla Walterboro Ware Shoals Waterfalls Water Towers Wedgefield West Columbia Westminster Winnsboro Woodruff Yemassee York