Shannon Simmons

(Rock Hill, S.C) — The year was 1961 when a group of Friendship College students would leave their mark on the civil rights movement by staging a peaceful sit-in at a “whites-only” lunch counter in Rock Hill.

The group became known as the “Friendship Nine” and now, to celebrate Black History Month, there is an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these civil rights activists through a self-guided tour offered by Visit York County.

“There have been efforts in the city of Rock Hill to…honor the heroics of the Friendship Nine and other Rock Hill heroes who stand for justice and equality,” said Sonja Burris, senior VP of marketing and communications at Visit York County.

The walking tour begins at the former site of Friendship College, which closed in 1981 and was later torn down, but the fence and signage for the school remain. It continues to Main Street to the former site of McCrory’s Five and Dime, where the original lunch counter and chairs from the diner are still in place.

Other highlights on the tour include a number of historical markers and Rock Hill’s Heritage Hallway and Freedom Walkway, which feature photos and murals honoring the city’s civil rights history.

Alyssa Washington, culture editor for the Roddey-McMillan Record, Winthrop University’s multicultural newspaper, said she remembers learning about the Port of Charleston and its role in the slave trade in school.

The Freedom Walkway in downtown Rock Hill is one of the stops on walking tour of civil rights history (photo: Shannon Simmons).

However, she said it would be beneficial for young people to learn more about the Friendship Nine and other historic black figures from South Carolina.

“I feel like it would be very significant,” said Washington. “I feel like (students) would be able to relate more to historical figures in black history if they knew that just…down the street, right near them, that an occurrence happened.”

Burris said going on the tour or visiting other historical landmarks can have an impact on the community.

“Getting that hands on experience or being…there at those locations is so much more impactful than reading about it or hearing about it in a classroom,” said Burris.

She said the Friendship Nine walking tour is currently self-guided, so visitors can participate year-round.