FEBRUARY 6, 1961

These members of the “Friendship Nine” were sentenced to 30 days of hard labor for protesting racial segregation Credit: Joel Nichols/Pettus Archives, Winthrop University

The civil rights jail-in movement began when eight Black students and a civil rights organizer became known as the “Friendship Nine” in Rock Hill, South Carolina, were arrested for requesting service at a segregated lunch counter.

They served jail time rather than pay fines, challenging the legitimacy of the laws.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to the nine and others who joined them in jail, including Charles Sherrod and Diane Nash: “You have inspired all of us by such demonstrative courage and faith. It is good to know that there still remains a creative minority who would rather lose in a cause that will ultimately win than to win in a cause that will ultimately lose.”

The “Jail, No Bail” strategy became the model for the Freedom Riders months later. In 2015, Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III threw out the convictions of the Friendship Nine — eight college students and a civil rights organizer who had been convicted of trespassing and protesting at the McCrory store in Rock Hill.

Hayes, the nephew of the original judge who sentenced the Friendship Nine to jail, told them, “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”

The nine were represented by Ernest A. Finney Jr., who defended their case 54 years earlier and went on to become the first Black chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court since Reconstruction.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.