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Judge in South Carolina Throws Out Sit-In Convictions for “Friendship Nine”

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A judge in Rock Hill, S.C., vacated the convictions of nine black men who were arrested in 1961 for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter. (Photo by Megan Gielow for The New York Times)

Rock Hill, South Carolina (CNN) A South Carolina judge on Wednesday threw out the convictions of the Friendship Nine, who were jailed in 1961 after a sit-in protest in Rock Hill, South Carolina, during the civil rights movement.

“Today is a victory in race relations in America,” said Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said in a news conference following the ruling. “It is a new day.”

The prosecutor who pushed for this momentous day, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett of Rock Hill, cited King’s father when explaining to CNN on Tuesday why he was motivated to take up the cause of the Friendship Nine: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The proceedings began at the Rock Hill Law Center with Municipal Judge Jane Pittman Modla reading from the original court record for each of the men. She asked each of the seven men in attendance — one has since died, while another had transportation issues — to stand as their names were called.

“Offense: trespassing. Disposition: guilty. Sentence: $100 or 30 days. Condition: sent to the chain gang,” she said for each of them, reading from the 1961 docket.

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Ernest Finney, who was the men’s defense attorney in 1961, entered the motion to have the sentences tossed out. The 83-year-old required help standing and propped himself on the table in front of him as he spoke.

“May it please the court, today I’m honored and proud to move this honorable court to vacate the conviction of my clients. These courageous and determined South Carolinians have shown by their conduct and their faith that the relief that they seek should be granted. I move for the convictions entered in 1961 to be vacated.”

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