The year is 1961, David Williamson Jr. was a college student at Friendship Junior College but on this day he and a group of others would become so much more than just students.
It was a chilly morning in Rock Hill, South Carolina and for Williamson there was nothing particularly special about this day. That was until a group of his classmates asked him to join them in a lunch-counter protest – an unexpected invitation but one he couldn’t refuse.
"I didn't wake up that day planning to go to jail," Williamson said. "But it was the right thing to do. They challenged me to join them, and I wasn't going to say no."
The protest was to advocate for change to the segregation policies that led to dining establishments refusing services to those in the Black community. Lunch-counter protests were happening all over the country but this particular was the first to employ the “Jail, No Bail” strategy.
Refusing to pay the government money to bail out arrested protesters for the required days was seen as a stronger message.
"The biggest thing was to draw attention," Williamson said. "We know, as African-Americans, we go to the places where you work, we could cook for you and put it on the table, but we couldn't sit down and eat with you. By going to the restaurant, we wanted to be able to draw attention, and hoped that would open eyes to other things. It was only the beginning."
Williamson spent 30 days in jail in harsh conditions that included doing hard labor in the infamous South Carolina heat. Williamson and his classmates would go to be known as the Friendship 9.
Today, Rock Hill commemorates the actions of the Friendship 9 by having historical markers along The Freedom Walkway. As for Williamson, he continues to mentor young men, frequently shares his experience about the Friendship Nine in schools and civic groups, and works part-time as a teacher in Rock Hill.
Williamson will be featured as the special guest for Charlotte FC’s coronation against the New York Red Bulls to celebrate Black Excellence.