When my sister first moved to Rock Hill in the early 1980's, we were not impressed. The town was small, depressing, and run down. The only part of the community that seemed to be flourishing was the churches. And this meant that on Sunday nothing else was open. One Sunday we tried to buy new tennis balls so we could play. That wasn't going to happen. In retrospect, Rock Hill was in a deep depression as was much of the southeast. They relied on the textile industry and all the factories that manufactured sheets and towels had been moved off shore. The community reeled.
There were aspects of that community that we found unappealing. Confederate flags were everywhere and some folks made us feel like the War of Northern Aggression had ended yesterday. Some folks spoke with drawls so drawly, we weren't sure what they were saying. But this is where our brother-in-law had found a job as a professor and this was where they stayed.
Over the years Rock Hill has improved greatly. Most of the homes and yards are nicely kept, in contrast to earlier times. The town has rennovated buildings of historical significance and repurposed those old textile factories into modern offices. The downtown is attractive with plenty of free parking. On the outskirts of town all the stores we are used to patronizing at home are easily found. In some ways Rock Hill has become a bedroom community for nearby Charlotte, a major metropolis and banking center.
But few people outside of the immediate area have ever heard of Rock Hill. So we were surprised to see a report on NBC news a few months ago about a commemorative ceremony that marked an important event here during the Civil Rights movement. Students at a local community college for African Americans decided to try to eat lunch at a local restaurant that was whites only. During this time demonstrators who were arrested paid fines to avoid being jailed. It was hard for the NAACP and SNIC organizations to fund all these fines, so nine of the ten protestors here decided to serve jail time instead. The new motto became, "jail not bail." While the demonstrators were in jail, they were supported by local taxes rather than contributing to the local economy. In the story we saw on TV, the nine freedom fighters were brought back to court and pardoned by the nephew of the judge who had sentenced them back in 1961. Rock Hill has definitely changed.
So we decided to visit the restaurant where this took place. It too had been nicely renovated, but each chair along the lunch counter bears a tag with the name of a protestor who briefly sat there before he was hauled away. Over but not forgotten. And because it is a southern speciality, Ken had chicken and waffles for lunch, a meal he thoroughly enjoyed for its unhealthy goodness. Some things never change.