“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history”
Judge John C Hays III , January 2015
When we talk about civil rights we all know about Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks . But what about W.T. “Dub” Massey or Clarence Graham? Does the Friendship 9 ring a bell? Perhaps you have heard of them because of the recent national news coverage (but that doesn’t count :)). I thumbed through my old college history textbook and found no mention of the Friendship 9. Throughout history there have been several people who have played an integral role in shaping or changing the world, but there is simply not enough room to include them in a textbook. This is why I am determined to focus on the humanity of history with my kids rather than memorize dates and names. History is a story of the past filled with good times and awful times. Stories engage children and leave them wanting to know more about the hardships, lessons learned, and how people persevere to make the world better for future generations.
Last month the kids and I had the unforgettable experience of meeting members of the Friendship 9 and Kimberly Johnson, author of No Fear For Freedom: Brief History of the Friendship 9.
Who are the Friendship 9?
We moved to Rock Hill, SC about three years ago and every time we walk downtown we see the historical marker in front of the Five and Dine . This is the lunch counter where 9 friends from Friendship College walked in and were arrested for entering a whites only diner in 1961. They were the first to test the jail-no-bail strategy and decided to stay in jail for 30 days instead of paying the bail. For thirty days they were part of a “chain gang” doing menial and physically laborious work. They even spent 3 days in solitary confinement! Their “jail no bail strategy” was an inspiration to other civil rights activists. Soon other activists in the South were implementing the strategy in hope that their desire for equality would be heard. Prior to jail no bail, individuals would pay the fine rather than sit in jail and the municipalities were profiting from the arrests. Activists were realizing that is was not beneficial to their cause. Instead of giving money the activists would fill the jails, leaving the cities to feed and care for them.
“In 1961, we would go downtown – it wasn’t for any glory. We were not looking for any hero worship. We were simply tired of the status quo, tired of being treated like second-class citizens, tired of being spat on, kicked, called the N-word, drinking out of colored water fountains. We got tired of that.” —–Clarence Graham, Friendship 9
A New Chapter for History
Justice and national attention for the Friendship 9 probably would not have occurred if it was not for author Kimberly P Johnson. She brought to life their story of inspiration, hardship , and determination to challenge unjust laws in a peaceful manner. Her book brings this story to life in a way that young children can understand and older children would want to read. Her poetic writing style engages young children , while the margins are full of historical information that appeals to older students searching for in-depth explanations of civil rights topics. Check out a sample page here.
We missed the historical day in court where the judge vacated the charges from over 50 years ago (watch here) but we made it to the re-enactment walk. Watching them do the one mile walk reenactment from Friendship College to the diner was like stepping back in time. My mind imagined what it would be like to walk into the diner knowing I was not welcome and would be arrested. I could not help but wonder, would I have the courage to do that? Would I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in even it means I could get physically hurt or sent to jail for hard labor? Would my kids have done the same thing? I also tried to imagine this now peaceful city of Rock Hill being a turbulent location full of racial tension just 54 years ago. My eyes burned with tears as I visualized what it must have been like to live through this era while many people fought to bring equal rights to everyone. It can be an unjust world but thanks to heroes such as the Friendship 9 , change happens. The morning was full of inspiration with talks by the Solicitor General and author Kimberly Johnson.
Several days later we attended a service to honor these men at city hall. There was also a panel discussion with the Friendship 9 where they talked about why they did it, what it was like in jail and the fear they experienced. Afterwards they took the time to converse and sign books with the audience.
Our exploration continued by:
- learning how our judicial system works
- watching videos and reading more about the Civil Rights Movement and other key figures
- Vocabulary— why were the charges vacated instead of pardoned?
- Activities from Kimberly’s instructional guide —My kids thumbed through the guide and picked out their favorite activities. They really enjoyed idioms, “pyramiding ” a word , and creating mnemonic devices.
- Had a discussion about what would you have done if you were in their shoes ? Discussed my kids choices.
- My children were inspired by their bravery and integrity. They wanted to know what happened after they left jail. Kimberly’s instructional guide has their biographies listed and we found more information on their website. (see below)
Why These Men are True Heroes to Children and Adults
In a book we can read what these men have done and be appreciative of their bravery. But to see them in person, hearing their story in their own words, is an entirely different story. You may expect them to hold a grudge or be bitter. Instead they are peaceful and humble. They are a perfect example of integrity, strength, courage, and being humble. One thing I did not know until I read the book and listened to them speak was the process of nonviolent training the civil rights activists went through. CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) would train activists on how to withstand being spit on, hit, kicked and screamed at without responding with violence. It was imperative that they were peaceful because they believed this behavior , not violence, would lead them to equality.
These men inspired change through peaceful means. That is something we can all aspire to do in order to promote peace and equality for all in this world. It was truly an unforgettable experience to witness history in our town ! You can bring history to life by sharing the stories of brave individuals with your children. The past can be ugly but there is much to be learned from those who have overcome adversity and shaped the culture of our nation. I hope you choose No Fear For Freedom to read with your children. Friendship 9 are now a group of men my children will not forget !
“I learned to be nonviolent. In doing so, I learned to find positive outlets for anger so my anger wouldn’t destroy me!” —-Clarence Graham, Friendship 9
For more information on the Friendship 9:
Jail No Bail— brief video on the history of their story with interviews with members of Friendship 9
NPR article — talks about judge throwing out the convictions from 54 years ago
Kimberly Johnson— interview with the author and how her book led to recognition of these men
Friendship 9— Official site of the Friendship 9 , read their stories and read about how despite being wronged so long these individuals made significant contributions to society in their professional lives