‘No Room For Racism’ mural honors Friendship Nine, Rock Hill SC civil rights history
ROCK HILL, S.C. (Rock Hill Herald) - Before the mural’s paint had dried Sunday afternoon, Brittany Kelly had already seen how powerful the project on White Street could be.
Dozens of Rock Hill residents from all walks of life — families and individuals, people of all races — had helped paint a street mural that stretches about 100 feet in downtown Rock Hill.
The design, in block letters, reads “No Room For Racism,” a city motto that dates back to the tenure of Mayor Doug Echols. The first letters are filled in with the colors in the city’s logo, and the last nine letters are the faces of the Friendship Nine stenciled in black and white.
The project leaders said they plan for the mural to be there forever.
“We marched in the downtown Rock Hill march with Rev. C.T. Kirk, and we just felt that there was something more we needed to do than just march,” said Kelly, who helped coordinate this project and located the mural in front of The Mercantile, a general store she runs on White Street. “We’ve been known to use The Mercantile as our platform to do different things for equality and diversity in the community, so this was one of the things that we decided to do.”
The street mural is comparable to many of the “Black Lives Matter” street murals that have been painted in Washington, D.C., Charlotte and other places in response to the growing social movement that has captivated the country for months.
But it’s also uniquely and undeniably special to Rock Hill.
“Something that everyone in Rock Hill recognizes is the Friendship Nine,” said Heather Johnson, who also helped organize the mural project. “They know that name. They know that story. It’s so meaningful on so many levels.
“So I feel like, with these nine letters, that was something that really tied this statement to the city — and to its history and its yearning to invoke change.”
PAINTING ROCK HILL’S MOTTO
A team carrying buckets of paint and tape began work at 7:30 a.m. The city blocked off the road at 8:30 a.m.
And then over the next several hours, after word got out about the project on social media, many people in the town showed up and saw the mural for themselves.
“I think that is history, definitely, in the making,” said longtime social activist Rev. C.T. Kirk of Sanctuary of Life Outreach Center in Rock Hill, who visited the mural in the afternoon.
Kirk told The Herald that the mural keeps the city committed to its motto of “No Room For Racism” and also helps highlight the significance Rock Hill had in the civil rights movement decades ago.
“Rock Hill should do a lot more paying attention to its history because if it promoted its history like it does other things, there’s no reason why people wouldn’t come down to see the museums to learn about the Friendship Nine,” he said. “It’s such an important part of our history.”
Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys also visited the mural in the morning.
“It’s a time like this when I think that art does a great job of communicating,” Gettys said via phone call Sunday afternoon. “In my opinion, what they’re doing out there on White Street, it’s just a really powerful statement as to why Rock Hill is a special place. And it’s because we all seem to want the same things.”
Even David Williamson, a member of the Friendship Nine, visited the mural twice, Kelly said — once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, to see the mural finished.
Nearly six decades ago, Williamson was one of 10 Black men arrested for staging a sit-in protest at a segregated lunch counter in Rock Hill.
Kelly said the text of the design — “No Room For Racism” — had several artistic meanings and intentions behind it. But it’s primary purpose was to educate.
“I think the coolest thing of all of it, and I just kept it in the back of my head, was that kids are going to walk up (to the mural) and ask, ‘Who’s that?’” Kelly said.
“Art is about the conversation and just spurring thought, spurring creative thought, spurring different perspectives,” she said. “And connecting people in ways that they didn’t necessarily believe was possible before.”