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‘Jail, No Bail’ Idea Stymied Cities’ Profiting From Civil Rights Protesters

Fifty years ago, the “Jail, No Bail” strategy became a new tactic in the fight for civil rights. Watch an excerpt from a documentary produced by South Carolina ETV documenting the key moment in civil rights history.

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  • KEITH DAVID, narrator:

    By the summer of 1960, civil rights leaders began to question the effectiveness of sit-ins and protests. Hundreds of arrests had been made and thousands of dollars in bail were paid to cities across the south.

    THOMAS GAITHER, Friendship Nine protester: We'd had the sit-ins, and we didn't have actually a large number of gains. We had people who were arrested. They went to jail, they paid their bail, they went back and often there were people who repeated this. Well, we thought it was time to raise the level of commitment to show how serious we were about trying to transform our society into a more just society.


    Thomas Gaither was a field secretary for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality at the time. He along with other leaders devised a solution; they called it "Jail, No Bail."

    DUB MASSEY, Friendship Nine protester: We had taken the thought from Thomas Gaither, who was in communication with Diane Nash and the others who were paying fines, and they could not continue to pay those fines as they were arrested. So, they had discussed "Jail, No Bail." The information of course, spread around the South and it came to Friendship.

    CLARENCE GRAHAM, Friendship Nine protester: So we, the Friendship Nine along with Thomas Gaither, we met with 40 students in late summer. And we began to have serious discussions about going to jail and not paying the actual bail money. We had special classes. This was a non-violent movement. So, we had to be sensitive to what we could expect.


    Dub Massey, Clarence Graham, John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Willie McCloud, James Wells, David Williamson, Charles Taylor, Robert McCullough and Mack Workman left Friendship College on the morning of January 31st and began their historic walk to downtown Rock Hill.


    We walked from the campus to downtown Rock Hill. We picketed in front of the store for a short while.


    We walked in and sat down. We expected to be arrested, we were– and drag out of the store. Literally dragged out of the store. The police department was in the back or an adjacent parking lot.

    MACK WORKMAN, Friendship Nine protester: And we were swished out of the restaurant to the jailhouse, and they put us in this cell. And it is a sound that you never will forget if you have been incarcerated. And whenthey closed that door and that key turned, you know you are in jail.


    Reverend Ivory and James McCain, the South Carolina leader of CORE arranged for a sharp young attorney from Sumter, South Carolina to represent the students. His name was Ernest J. Finney, and he would later go on to become the first black Supreme Court Justice for the state of South Carolina.


    Attorney Finney was a very excellent lawyer, he discussed everything in detail, this was not one of his first trials that he had tried with people that had been in this situation, so he was well aware of what was going on in South Carolina. He brought out very interesting points, and one of the points was if we could go in one part of the store and be accepted, why couldn't we sit at the counter?


    During the course of the trial, Finney also argued that police officers did not give the students enough time to leave before arresting them.


    When we were tried, the attorney for the state had asked how long were they at the lunch counter. And there was the Rock Hill police department captain testifying. And the testimony was three to five seconds. But when our attorney asked the same police officials about time, three to five seconds became three, four, five minutes. So, obviously we could not have gotten away if we had wanted to. And the discrepancy in the time for how long we were at the lunch counter was glaring. So glaring, until the judge actually dismissed the court and came back and essentially acknowledged that we had not been given adequate time to leave the lunch counter. We staged this protest because we wanted to be jailed, but it looks like here on a technicality we may not be jailed because we did not have time to leave if we had responded to their request.

    JOHN GAINES, Friendship Nine protester: Finney almost won the case for us. And I say well, boy, we don't want Finney to win this case. The last thing we want to do is win this case because we want to go to jail.

    ADOLPHUS BELK, political science professor, Winthrop University: So, the Friendship Nine, their contributions to the Civil Rights struggle was significant. That should be a major part of this retelling of Civil Rights history. Because really they shifted all of the responsibility– the financial burden of imprisonment from the organization elsewhere. And in the process, no longer are they filling the coffers of the people who are imprisoning them and erecting these systems to support segregation and Jim Crow.


    In 1964, just three years after the Friendship Nine began the "Jail, No Bail" movement President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which granted African-American equal rights under the constitution.


    That movement, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s set the social tone in the country so that other movements by minority groups would be accepted by society.

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