Rock Hill: Counter Histories
A landmark in civil rights history is paid due reverence in this documentary about the “Friendship Nine”, a group of African-American students who staged a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in South Carolina. 60 years on we hear from the brave individuals whose act of non-violent protest in 1961 helped invigorate the integration movement with a bold change in strategy.
Told with a clear-headed focus, archive material and a jazz score over 54 minutes, Counter Histories: Rock Hill wastes no time in painting a political backdrop of segregation across the South. With money scarce among civil rights groups, nine young men (eight of whom attended Rock Hill’s Friendship Junior College) took the lead from an earlier protest in Nashville and adopted a policy of “Jail, No Bail.”
Following their arrest, the activists served the sentence of 30 days hard labour instead of paying a fine, shifting the financial burden from the protestors and onto the state. As activist Thomas Gaither explains, it also pushed responsibility onto white Americans to take their business to integrated establishments, leveraging a system that only listens to economic pressure.
Today we might call this “ethical consumerism”, the film celebrates that legacy, albeit in quite an odd manner, whereby actors recreating scenes from the 1960s break the fourth wall and describe the sit-in’s impact in patriotic terms. But this doesn’t detract from the sacrifice of the activists who served time in order to change America, their convictions only overturned in 2015.
Their powerful act of unity is reflected in the movie’s editing, weaving their stories together as though speaking as a whole, dignified and positive in its depiction of vital, peaceful protest. And though it would be tempting, at no point does anybody mention Donald Trump, an omission that speaks volumes about his place in accounts from the right side of history.
Rock Hill: Counter Histories is released digitally on demand on 26th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for Rock Hill: Counter Histories here: