Elon professor represents father at 'Friendship Nine' exoneration

The father of Kenn Gaither, associate dean in the School of Communications, helped shape the Civil Rights Movement when he was among a group of young men who in 1961 used a "jail, no bail" tactic at a segregated South Carolina lunch counter. Their convictions were vacated on Jan. 28, 2015 - nearly 54 years to the day after their arrests.

Associate Professor Kenn Gaither represented his father on Jan. 28, 2015, as a South Carolina court exonerated the elder Gaither along with several college students who in 1961 played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Nearly all of the men were present in the courtroom when their convictions were vacated.

Thomas Gaither, at the time field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, recruited students from Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill, S.C., to take a seat with him on Jan. 30, 1961, at a local segregated lunch counter. Their actions were to commemorate a Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in one year earlier in Greensboro, N.C.

The group was quickly arrested and all but one but refused to pay a $100 fine, opting instead to perform prison labor for a month.

Soon known as the “Friendship Nine,” their “jail, no bail” tactic spread across the South, eventually placing incredible strains on local jails and providing another tool for nonviolent direct action protesters battling Jim Crow laws and institutional racism.

The South Carolina courts formally vacated the men’s trespassing charges and offered an apology to the group. All but one remain alive. Thomas Gaither, a retired college professor now living in Pittsburgh, was unable to attend in person and asked his son and nephew to represent him.

Kenn Gaither, in a Facebook post to his friends, said he was “honored to represent my father and stand with these great men as the Friendship 9.”


NBC Nightly News coverage

Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald coverage

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette coverage