Willie McCleod, member of Rock Hill’s Friendship Nine, passes away at 76

Updated: Jan. 1, 2021 at 7:56 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Willie McCleod, one of the surviving members of the Friendship Nine, has passed away at the age of 76.

McCleod was one of nine students from Rock Hill’s Friendship College that were arrested, went to jail, and served 30 days on a chain gang for sitting at an all-whites lunch counter inside the local McCrory’s store in 1961.

Rather than pay the fine, they took the time - and pioneered the “Jail, No Bail” concept, which was widely used in the Civil Rights movement.

Back in 2015, their records were cleared when York County Solicitor Kevin Brackett asked for their charges of trespassing to be vacated.

Brackett also issued an apology to the Friendship 9 on behalf of the State of South Carolina.

Just this year, the restaurant at the center of the 1961 incident, now fittingly named Kounter, honored the Friendship Nine.

“In 1961, they were refused service and in 2020 they’ll be the first to receive service,” said executive chef and owner Rob Masone.

In July, a street mural comparable to many of the “Black Lives Matter” street murals painted across the country in response to the growing social movement that has captivated the country for months, was painted to honor the group in Rock Hill.

“Something that everyone in Rock Hill recognizes is the Friendship Nine,” Heather Johnson, who also helped organize the mural project, told the Rock Hill Herald. “They know that name. They know that story. It’s so meaningful on so many levels.”

McCleod died late in the day on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

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