Western York County will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this weekend with a breakfast and parade, this year led by members of the Friendship Nine.
Steve Love, director of the annual parade sponsored by the Western York County NAACP, said members of the civil rights group, who were arrested in 1961 for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter in Rock Hill, will speak after Saturday’s parade.
“We will let them talk to us about the changes, and what’s happened to them in all the years from the time they were arrested to today,” Love said.
The parade begins at 1 p.m. Saturday in downtown York and will end with a community celebration featuring food, music and more on the former Jefferson field, near Jefferson Elementary School.
The city of York and the York school district will honor King in a separate event with a 9 a.m. breakfast Friday in the cafeteria of York Comprehensive High School. Speaker will be Oliver Love, director of student services with the school district. Tickets are $10.
Love said members of the Friendship Nine have been designated grand marshals for Saturday’s parade, which will begin at the parking lot of Whitesides Cleaners, 5 E. Madison St.
Love said the NAACP branch wanted to honor the Friendship Nine as their convictions are expected to be vacated this month.
At a Jan. 28 court hearing, a York County prosecutor is expected to ask a York County judge to vacate the men’s convictions.
The men – nine of whom later become known as the Friendship Nine – chose to spend a month in jail working on a chain gang rather than to pay a fine and go home, to prove that the law was wrong.
The 10 convicted were Clarence Graham, Willie McCleod, David Williamson Jr., Mack Workman, the late Robert McCullough, Charles Taylor, John Gaines, James Wells, Willie “Dub” Massey and civil rights organizer Thomas Gaither.
Rather than pay the $100 fine for trespassing, the men chose 30 days at hard labor. Taylor, to avoid losing a scholarship, left jail after three days.
Love said York’s MKL parade, which began in 1982, is the longest-running event of its kind in South Carolina. It was started by Mozell Neely and the late Ike Wright and the late William “Boger” Rawlinson.
The first year, he said, the procession was led by a Wright Funeral Home hearse with Happy Birthday Dr. King written on it. Since then, it has evolved to include cars, marching bands and floats, among other entries.
“It’s something we do for the community, and not just one particular area of the community, to understand that the legacy of Dr. King still lives,” Love said.
Guest bands will include the YCHS and Clover High School marching bands, the Eau Clair High School marching band from the Columbia area, the Bailey Shout Band from the United House of Prayer and the Drills of Hope Marching Thunder Band, both from Charlotte.
Love said parade participants are welcome to sign up on the day of the parade, which will begin to assemble at 11 a.m. The cost is $45 per entry.