'Never felt guilty': Civil rights convictions tossed in SC

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Civil RIghts Sit In - Woolworths Lunch Counter
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'Never felt guilty': Civil rights convictions tossed in SC
** FOR RELEASE SUNDAY, APRIL 5 **The Rev. W. T. "Dub" Massey, right, and Willie McLeod, left, pose at the counter where they were among the "Friendship Nine" who were jailed during 1960s civil rights "sit-ins" at what is now called the Old Town Bistro, Thursday, March 5, 2009, in Rock Hill, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
African Americans take seats in the "white only" section of a Woolworth's in Atlanta for the second straight day, Oct. 20, 1960, during a sit-in demonstration. The counter was closed as soon as the demonstration began. W.O. McClain, manager of the Woolworth store, second from right, talks to a spectator. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)
Former North Carolina A & T students, left to right, Joseph McNeill, David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan, are shown at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., Feb. 1, 1980, as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic sit-in. The four were not served in 1960 but their action launched the sit-in movement in more than nine states. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
Former North Carolina A & T students, left to right, Joseph McNeill, David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan, are shown at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., Feb. 1, 1980, as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic sit-in. The four were not served in 1960 but their action launched the sit-in movement in more than nine states. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
A section of the original F.W. Woolworth lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina, where in 1960 four African-American college students launched the sit-in movement, appears as part of a new exhibit called, 'Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement,' at the Newseum in Washington, DC, on August 2, 2013. The exhibit examines the student leaders of the early 1960's who fought segregation and includes the lunch counter and a bronze casting of the Birmingham, Alabama, jail cell door from where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the 'Letter From Birmingham Jail' in 1963. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 7, 2010 photo, the lunch counter at the former F.W. Woolworth is shown at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C. Four college freshmen walked into a Greensboro, N.C., dime store on Monday, Jan. 1 1960, bought a few items, then sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter, and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
In this Jan. 16, 2010 photo, Joseph McNeil, left, Franklin McCain, center, and Jibreel Khazan, right, speak during the AFL-CIO conference in Greensboro, N.C. As college freshmen they sat down at a whites only Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, N.C., and refused to leave when they were not served. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey)
In this Jan. 16, 2010 photo, Jibreel Khazan speaks during the AFL-CIO conference in Greensboro, N.C. As a college freshmen Khazan sat down at a whites only Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, N.C., and refused to leave when he was not served. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey)
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2010 file photo, Franklin McCain speaks during the AFL-CIO conference in Greensboro, N.C. McCain, who helped spark a movement of nonviolent sit-in protests across the South by occupying a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, died late Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 in North Carolina, according to his son, Frank McCain of Greensboro. He was 73. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey, File)
In this Jan. 16, 2010 photo, Joseph McNeil speaks during a AFL-CIO conference in Greensboro, N.C. As a college freshmen McNeil sat down at a whites only Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, N.C., and refused to leave when he was not served. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey)
In this Jan. 7, 2010 photo, a historical marker is shown in front of the former F.W. Woolworth store at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C. Four college freshmen walked into a Greensboro, N.C., dime store on Monday, Jan. 1 1960, bought a few items, then sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter, and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
In this Jan. 7, 2010 photo, The entrance to the former F.W. Woolworth store that will become the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is shown in Greensboro, N.C. Four college freshmen walked into a Greensboro, N.C., dime store on Monday, Jan. 1 1960, bought a few items, then sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter, and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Lee Kinard, from left, former anchor for WFMY-TV in Greensboro, Dr. George Simkins, past president of the NAACP in Greensboro, Derek King, nephew of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Hal Sieber, local historian and author gather at the location of the lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C. Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2000. A community forum was held as pat of the 40 anniversary of the Feb. 1, 1960 sit-ins which launched the civil rights movement. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Jibreel Khazan, left, and Franklin McCain hug during the opening of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, Jan. 14, 1995. They joined Joseph McNeil to commemorate their sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter 35 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., that sparked a civil rights tactic that challenged racial inequality in the South and eventually earned blacks the right to be treated equal to whites. The lunch counter and other related items went on display at the museum. (AP Photo/Tyler Mallory)
From left: Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan, and Franklin McCain greet each other during an opening of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington , Jan. 14, 1995. The three men came to commemorate their sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter 35 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., that sparked a civil rights tactic that challenged racial inequality in the South and eventually earned blacks the right to be treated equal to whites. The lunch counter and other related items went on display at the museum. (AP Photo/Tyler Mallory)
Waitress Lou Jackson works the coffee-shop lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth store across from the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, July 17, 1997. Lucille Sanders, left, has been shopping at Woolworth's all her life and Thursday she stopped in for a grilled cheese sandwich. Woolworth Corp. said Thursday it will close its 400 U.S. stores. (AP Photo/Chris Kasson)
James Baker, left, prepares to enter the downtown Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC, Jan. 27, 1990, where 30 years ago four black college students staged a sit-in demonstration at the whites-only lunch counter. Historians say the sit-ins, the first of which was held on Feb. 1, 1960, helped ignite the decade of civil rights protests in this country. (AP Photo)
Former North Carolina A & T students, left to right, Joseph McNeill, David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan, are shown at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., Feb. 1, 1980, as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic sit-in. The four were not served in 1960 but their action launched the sit-in movement in more than nine states. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
Ima Edwards chats with Robby Baker, holding baby Brandie Moore, at lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro. N.C., Feb. 6, 1992. Ima was working at the same store during the sit-in in 1960. In background is Jackie Moore with son David. (AP Photo)
The four black men who were denied service at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC thirty years ago, take their places at the same lunch counter to recreate their sit-in on Thursday, February 2, 1990. The men are (from left): Joseph McNeil, Jibreal Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair, Jr.), Franklin McCain, and David Richmond. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Woolworth's customers closed its main downtown store in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 1960, after white youth identified as Harold Sprayberry, 21, of Atlanta, walked along lunch counter area spraying insect repellent above heads of nearly 100 African Americans demonstrating at a sit-in for three hours. Sprayberry was charged with inciting a riot although the spectators proceeded to street without incident. About an hour later the store was re-opened. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)
Singer Harry Belafonte leads a line of pickets from Harvard and surrounding colleges in protest against lunch counter segregation in the South. Students picketed the Woolworth store in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Ma., April 21, 1960. (AP Photo/J. Walter Green)
Memphis Norman, 21, sit-in demonstrator, is pulled from the Woolworth store lunch counter and beaten on floor by Benny Oliver, former Jackson city policeman, May 28, 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi. Norman and two female students from Tougaloo Southern Christian College were refused service. Police were unable to break up the white crowd is because the store manager would not file a complaint. (AP Photo)
The Rev. Michael Itkin and the Rev. Peter Bandtlow, right, sit at F.W. Woolworth store lunch counter on New York?s herald square on April 2, 1960. The two members of the humanist league and church demonstrated with other youths who identified themselves as city college of New York students in protest against segregation at counters in southern stores of chain. Girl is Nora Roberts. The sit-in was sponsored by the New York youth committee for integration at same time that call for nationwide picketing of Woolworth stores was issued by congress of Racial Equality. (AP Photo/JL)
Youths who identified themselves as students at City College of New York sit at the lunch counter in F.W. Woolworth store at New York's Herald Square on April 2, 1960. The students did not order anything at the counter during their protest, which was sponsored by the New York Youth Committee for Integration in support of similar demonstrations by black students in the Woolworth's chain stores in the South. (AP Photo)
African-Americans picket in front of the F.W. Woolworth store in protest against the chain's policy of segregating its lunch counters in the south, in Atlantic City, N.J, March 19, 1960. (AP Photo)
Students at Princeton University picket outside an F.W. Woolworth store near campus, protesting against segregated lunch counters in the chain-store's southern branches in Princeton, N.J., March 12, 1960. A short while earlier police broke up a scuffle between the anti-segregationist students and a group police said was composed of Princeton students from the south and local youths. The melee produced no arrests and no injuries. (AP Photo)
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) -- For a moment, Clarence Graham's heart raced. Fifty four years after he and eight fellow black men served a month of hard labor for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, a judge declared that they had been wrongly convicted of trespassing and their records would be tossed.

"In my heart, I was leaping," Graham said.

Family, friends and supporters in the packed courtroom clapped and cheered Wednesday as Judge John C. Hayes vacated the sentences for the men known as the Friendship 9. Seven of them were in court. One had died, and another couldn't make the hearing. The men who were there - some surrounded by their children - smiled as they heard the ruling.

They had "never felt guilty of anything," Graham said.

Hayes said the men had been prosecuted "solely based on their race."

"We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history," he said.

The eight college students and one civil rights organizer were convicted in 1961 of trespassing and breach of peace for protesting at McCrory variety store in Rock Hill.

They had a choice of spending 30 days in jail or paying a $100 fine. All opted for jail.

The men's refusal to pay into the segregationist town's city coffers served as a catalyst for other civil disobedience. Demonstrators across the South adopted their "jail, not bail" tactic.

At the time of the Friendship 9's demonstration, in February 1961, about a year had passed since a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, helped galvanize the nation's civil rights movement. But change was slow to come to Rock Hill.

Thomas Gaither came town as an activist with the Congress of Racial Equality. He encouraged Graham and seven other students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College - W.T. "Dub" Massey, Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., John Gaines and Mack Workman - to violate the town's Jim Crow laws by ordering lunch at McCrory's.

Last year, author Kim Johnson published "No Fear For Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9." She is the one who went to Kevin Brackett, the prosecutor for York and Union counties, to see what could be done to clear their records.

Brackett agreed the men were wrongly convicted - and pushed for the hearing.

"There was only one reason these men were arrested. There was only one reason that they were charged and convicted for trespassing, and that is because they were black," he said in court Wednesday.

Then he apologized to the men: "Sometimes you just have to say you're sorry," Brackett said.

South Carolina has a long history of revisiting and trying to right its past during the civil rights movement. In recent years, both a Democrat and Republican governor apologized for state troopers opening fire on black protesters at South Carolina State University in 1968, killing three.

Last month, a judge threw out the conviction of a 14-year-old black boy who was executed after being convicted for killing two white girls. His trial that lasted a day.

In the weeks leading to Wednesday's hearing, the Friendship 9 recalled how different Rock Hill was at the time of their arrests. Today it's a thriving exurb - about 25 miles south of Charlotte, with blacks and whites living side by side in the city's neighborhoods.

But in 1961, it was a typical small town in the segregated South. Blacks weren't allowed to attend white schools. When the nine opted for jail instead of fines, they spent the month working on a chain gang. Even then, they said, they didn't let the arrests break their spirit. To pass the time while they were digging ditches and loading dirt onto trucks, they sang songs, most notably Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang."

For years, they didn't talk about the arrests because of the stigma of spending time in jail - even for a month.

But now they want the younger generation to know about the struggle for civil rights and to believe that non-violence - as preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - can work.

Graham said he had a message for those in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places protesting the white police shootings of black teenagers: "Protesting is fine ... but do it in a nonviolent way."

Civil Rights Convictions Tossed in SC for 9 Men

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