James Wells, 1 of the Friendship Nine, dies at 77


ROCK HILL (AP) - James Wells, a member of a South Carolina civil rights protest group known as the Friendship Nine, has died.

Monique Ramseur with the Robinson Funeral Home confirmed that the Rock Hill lawyer died at his home Sunday at age 77.

Wells spent a month in jail in 1961 after he and eight other black men were charged with trespassing at a whites-only lunch counter in Rock Hill, The Herald of Rock Hill reported.

The men, who were attending Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill, chose to spend a month in jail rather than pay a fine in what was called the "Jail, no Bail" movement. Their time on a chain gang in York County encouraged protesters to stay in jail to fight segregation, Jim Crow laws and other forms of racism.

The convictions of Wells and the other members of the Friendship Nine were overturned in 2015. York County prosecutors apologized to the group for their arrest and time in jail.

"Jim Wells was one of our quiet leaders, an inspiration to all of us," said David Williamson, another member of the Friendship Nine. "He was so smart and gentle. A great, great man."

Wells and other members of the Friendship Nine are honored with stools at the former lunch counter where the protests took place. There also are signs and markers about the group around the city.

"Jim Wells was a friend of mine my whole life," said Willie McCleod, another member of the group. "He believed in what we were doing back then, and was willing, like all of us, to go to jail for what was right."

Ramseur did not know how Wells died. She was meeting with family members Monday afternoon to make arrangements for the funeral.

Wells, an Air Force veteran, is the third member of the group to die. Robert McCullough died in 2006, and Clarence Graham died in 2016.