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Sit-ins stood up for rights
'Jail, No Bail’ activists mark 50th anniversary
 
Published Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:05 am
by Sommer Brokaw

By 1961, a wave of student-led sit-ins had led to the desegregation of most lunch counters in Greensboro and Charlotte, but not in Rock Hill, S.C.

Tom Gaither, a field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, proposed a new strategy that would lessen the financial burden on civil rights groups and dramatize the struggle by students actually serving out jail sentences rather than getting out on bail.


Video/Sommer Brokaw
Charles Jones, who led Charlotte's sit-in movement in 1960, joined Rock Hill's Friendship Nine protests in 1961. The activists launched the "Jail No Bail" campaign by opting to stay in jail rather than be bailed out.

On Jan. 31, 1961, Gaither was among nine arrested for picketing McCrory’s Five and Dime in downtown Rock Hill. Eight were students at nearby Friendship Junior College.

The students were booked for trespassing and breach of peace. The next day they were sentenced to 30 days hard labor on the York County chain gang. Their actions launched a national campaign called “Jail, No Bail.” Prior to this campaign, sit-ins had been going on in Rock Hill for a year, $17,000 in bail money had been spent, and media were no longer paying attention.

The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte held a special screening of a documentary about the Rock Hill sit-ins that took place in Rock Hill called “Jail, No Bail” on Feb. 6 followed by a panel discussion with people who took part in the historic events.

Two members of the Friendship Nine, David Williamson and Willie McLeod, took front row seats during the screening. The seven other members were Gaither, Robert McCullough (who died in 2006), Clarence Graham, W.T. “Dub” Massey, James Wells, John Gaines, and Mack Workman.

Darnell Ivory, the daughter of Rev. Cecil Ivory, a black pastor who was a central figure in the Rock Hill protests was also present as well as Charles Jones, a leader of the Charlotte sit-in movement who joined the protest on Feb. 6 and was sent to the prison camp where the Friendship Nine were being held.

David Williamson, a Friendship student who participated in the protest, recalled in the documentary when and his fellow students were denied service at the lunch counter and arrested by police.

“They grabbed me up by the seat of my pants and shoulder and carried me out the back door,” he says in the film.

In the panel discussion, McLeod said going to jail was scary.

“A lot of guys said that they wasn’t afraid, but for me, one of the youngest protesters at the time, and not being familiar with jail or any police action before this I was afraid,” he said. “It’s one thing to talk about going to jail, but you don’t really feel it until that door closes and you hear those keys jangling to set in the lock.”

Jones, a theological student at Johnson C. Smith University during the sit-in era, said young people believed that they could change the world.

“We’d seen Martin Luther King, we’d seen (Mahatma) Ghandi,” he said. “Jail, No Bail was about accepting the full responsibility at hand of putting your body out and saying bring it on.”

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