Greenville SC – Yeah, THAT Greenville!

Southern hospitality, outstanding and delicious food and drink, perfectly quaint Main Street, parks, festivals and art – a place that is ideal to live in and a place that is ideal for a family vacation, a girlfriend getaway or even a solo trip – Yeah, THAT Greenville!

I recently spent a few days in Greenville, SC courtesy of Travel South USA. I received an all expense paid visit, however, all opinions are my own.

I can’t wait to go back! Why? Because Greenville, SC was named in the Top Ten Hottest Foodie Cities in the U.S. by People Magazine – one of the Best Cities in the United States by National Geographic Traveler – #3 Top Small City in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler – and, One of the 50 Best Places in the World to Visit in 2018 by Travel & Leisure. Even with being named all these things, Greenville feels like small southern town American when you stroll down Main Street.

If your time is limited, the best way to see Greenville is definitely through Greenville History Tours. Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not all about history. You can combine a tour with a culinary tasting. 

The creator of the laser pointer was a Greenville guy!

The tours offered highlight the best sites, historic buildings, public artwork, historic homes and neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants. Their tours create unique and memorable experiences for everyone. Greenville History Tours is a perfect way to get a feel for the area before exploring on your own.

The Food

Main Street in Greenville has over 120 restaurants. Almost all are locally owned. Greenville has over 1,000 restaurants in total which has made the area a foodie paradise.

With so many choices you are sure to find just what your taste buds are craving. You are sure to have a hard time deciding where to dine.

My favorite dining spot when I was there – Pomegranate on Main; not just because of the absolutely delicious Persian food I enjoyed but also because of the owner and his story.

The restaurant serves traditional Persian recipes prepared using fresh ingredients and healthy cooking methods. Visitors can enjoy beef, chicken, lamb, seafood, rice and vegetables – prepared in a unique way with saffron, mint and pomegranate.

Pomegranate on Main opened in 2007 as a way for the owner, Ali Saifi to share the culture and heritage of his homeland with visitors to Greenville. 

Ali was born and raised in Iran and through his restaurant he is able to share the easygoing, hospitable and friendly nature of the people of the southern area of Iran – “southern hospitality.”

He says customers often ask him about Iran and about the culture, and are surprised to learn it’s different than what they perceive from watching the news. Saifi learned his restaurant was a way of introducing people to a culture that was important to him and one that many people didn’t understand. “We’re all human beings. We’re all friends. Just our governments don’t seem to get along, which I can’t help that out,” he says.

Ali came to the United States in 1973 and became a US citizen in 1980. He moved to South Carolina in 1982, bringing the very first Subway to the area. He has a strong love of family and a value system that dictates philanthropic giving.

Those values motivated the former Shiraz, Iran resident to create a project in his hometown of Shiraz that has the potential to change hundreds of lives. He has set about to restore orphaned teenagers with their biological families. Orphaned children in Iran are released from care at around 15 years old. Those children are frequently given to an orphanage as babies because the family can’t afford to care for them, but the family is still living. When Saifi saw this firsthand while visiting his family, he immediately began looking for a way to help give these teens. He wanted an alternative to the street lifestyle to which they will often succumb.

He now runs a service that will assess orphans, locate their biological families, determine whether or not it is a viable living option, and then a trust fund is set up that will support the entire family and the child’s education through college so that the child can stay with their family.

Tea is an end to Persian meals. Silver tea service sets made by Ali’s sister are used in the restaurant.

His story, along with his food, touched me deeply. Not only does he help his home country in such an unbelievable way, he also gives back to the Greenville community that has been so generous to him.

 I loved the cranberry rice so much, Ali kindly emailed me the recipe – I have yet to be able to get it to taste as good as his!

Accommodations

No matter how you like to stay, you’ll be able to find the perfect spot in Greenville. From luxury accommodations to campgrounds and cabins, there is a place to stay for every visitor.

Travel with a furry friend, no problem! Pet-friendly accommodations can be found in the area that will welcome your pet with open arms.

I had the pleasure of staying at the Springhill Suites by Marriott Downtown Greenville. The location is ideal – in easy walking distance to all there is to do along Main Street and downtown Greenville – restaurants, boutique shopping, and entertainment.

The lobby is a great spot to “hang around” with friends!

When I stayed the hotel had only been open for approximately 3 weeks so needless to say was beautiful, brand new, immaculate and comfortable.

It’s a beautiful hotel that has you feeling like you are staying at a resort in the middle of the city. The amenities include free high speed internet service, a 24/7 state of the art techno gym facility, an outdoor seasonal pool and sundeck, and a complimentary breakfast every morning. Top of the line toiletries are in each room as well as coffee, coffee maker and mini-refrigerator.

The hotel offers one restaurant, Oak & Honey, as well as a free hot breakfast buffet and a convenience store. The menu at Oak & Honey offers something for everyone and their bar menu has a large selection to choose from.

Things to do

There is so much to see and do in Greenville that you won’t be able to visit just once!

The Greenville Zoo, the BMW Performance Center, Carolina Music Museum and the Children’s Museum of the Upstate are just a few of the many things for the family to do together.

Wineries, breweries, distilleries and spas can be added on for the adults. The list of things to do, places to see and attractions to enjoy is huge. You can make your list as long as you like depending on how long you’ll be visiting.

You can create a visit that focuses on outdoor activities, museums, food or just about anything else you can think of. I know I can’t wait to go back!




5 Really Big Reasons to Visit Lake Charles, Louisiana – #VisitLakeCharles

When most people think of visiting Louisiana, they think New Orleans. However, Louisiana is a big state and there is so much more to Louisiana than New Orleans. So much more to experience and enjoy and Lake Charles is the perfect place to experience it all.

Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the Southwest portion of the state, about 200 miles from New Orleans. It’s easy to get there. Planes, trains and automobiles can get you to this beautiful and friendly area of Louisiana.

I recently spent several days there as a guest of the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau and I have fallen in love with the area.

Here are just 5 reasons why everyone should visit Lake Charles:

No. 1 – Mardi Gras

A little about Mardi Gras: Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins for Catholics, and the end of a season of revelry. Mardi Gras celebrations fill the weeks between Epiphany (Twelfth Night) and Mardi Gras itself. The weekend just prior to Fat Tuesday is the most full of celebrations – from balls and pageants, gumbo cook-offs and crawfish boils, music and parades.

When we think of Mardi Gras, most of us think crazy, wild, drinking Mardi Gras in New Orleans. When you say “I’m going to Mardi Gras,” you will automatically receive comments and jokes about the craziness and alcohol. Unfortunately New Orleans Mardi Gras has a bit of a risqué reputation.

The truth is, Mardi Gras is family friendly for all of the communities in Louisiana that celebrate the traditional way. I was delighted to discover that at the Lake Charles Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana!

Mardi Gras in Lakes Charles is very different from the one that many automatically think of. Mardi Gras in Lake Charles is super family-friendly.

I was so very impressed by everything surrounding Mardi Gras in Lake Charles. Mardi Gras is Louisiana’s most celebrated time of year. In Southwest Louisiana, people of all ages come together to celebrate Mardi Gras. Parade crowds and festival-goers revel in high fashion and rich traditions.

Mardi Gras is an incredible cultural event all over the state, bringing out some of the best music, food, celebrations and festivities that the area has to offer.

BeadsBeadsBeads – and more Beads! Whether you are tossing or catching – Beads are a HUGE part of the Mardi Gras celebration!

Beads used for Mardis Gras are gold, purple and green. These three colors contain the Christian symbolism of power, justice and faith, respectively. Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870’s or 1880’s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600’s.

Though the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans originated in this Christian tradition, today the celebration is better known as a day for people of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to come together at the parades, eat great food, and compete to catch beads, doubloons and other throws from the people wearing masks and costumes on the floats parading down the streets. Who doesn’t love a parade? A parade tossing beads is even better!

Organizers, known locally as kreweshand out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. The beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Thanksgiving turkeys.

I am so glad I was able to experience Mardi Gras this way. The Lake Charles community welcomes everyone – as if they are old friends. It’s the perfect place to expose your children to the Mardi Gras celebration.

No. 2 – Food and Drink

Boudin, Crawfish and Shrimp – Oh My! From fancy restaurants to old fashioned home cooking done just right – the food in the Lake Charles area can’t be beat.

It doesn’t matter where your taste in food lies, you’ll be able to find exactly what you like. There is no better place to give good old fashion Creole cooking a try. 

Love Shrimp and Grits? Each local restaurant you visit has shrimp and grits done their way – with no two dishes being the same.

Did I hear a “what’s boudin?” rolling around in your head? Traditionally, boudin (pronounced BOO-DAN) is made with ground pork, rice, onion, green peppers, and Cajun spices and seasonings. All of that is then stuffed into casings or rolled into round balls to be deep fried, grilled, or slow-smoked. Just like shrimp and grits – no two eateries are alike when it comes to boudin.

Napa Valley has wine. New York has pizza. Wisconsin has cheese. Southwest Louisiana has boudin. To say that boudin is an important part of foodie life in Lake Charles would be an understatement. You can eat your way around the area on the Boudin Trail!

See you later alligator! Tastes like chicken . . Alligator bites are a great appetizer you can find on just about any menu in the area.

King Cake! Typically, king cake is made of a rich, brioche dough and a wide array of fillings, such as cinnamon, apple or other fruit filling, chocolate, and cream cheese. But the rainbow magic is found in the glaze and sprinkles, which are usually gold, green, and purple. Buried inside the batter is a tiny, plastic baby figurine.

Why is there a baby in the cake? There are two theories. Some believe the plastic baby is a symbolism for Baby Jesus because of the religious connection to King’s Day. Others, however, believe the popular New Orleans lore, which suggests that an elaborate cake was served with a bean or ring placed inside during the commemoration of the king’s ball in colonial Louisiana. Whoever found the bean or trinket in his or her slice of cake would be crowned the king or queen of the balls leading up to the lavish finale on Mardi Gras.

Today, the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice of cake. That person is also responsible for purchasing next year’s cake, or for throwing the next Mardi Gras party. 

Whatever you believe, King Cake is colorful, fun and delicious! 

Local beer and rum are also on the menu wherever you turn. You can visit a brewery or a distillery and learn how things are made. You can also do a little sampling while you are there. Visits and tours are family friendly and after all, you’re never too young to learn how rum is made!

Bayou Rum Distillery is the largest private rum distillery in the United States. They offer free distillery tours, tastings and a gift shop. The rum is made on-site in a traditional copper pot using 100% natural refined Louisiana can sugar and molasses.

Crying Eagle Brewing Co. opened in 2016 and is a new craft brewery in the area. Indoor seating and a great outdoor patio beer garden gives you plenty of spots to enjoy a sampling of their line-up of beers that you won’t be able to find anywhere else!

No. 3 – Accommodations

The area is full of great places to stay. Depending on your budget, family size and likes, all of the major hotel brands such as Best Western, Holiday Inn, Courtyard, etc., are represented in the area.

Let’s not forget that Louisiana is also a gambling state so a few large hotel/casino properties are also in the area.

I had the pleasure of staying at the Golden Nugget Casino Resort and can’t begin to tell you how beautiful the property is. It’s a large property offering 7 restaurants, a super large casino, Starbucks, cafe, large pool and more.

Even when traveling with the kids, the Golden Nugget shouldn’t be crossed off your list. The pool is beautiful and the property has lots of visitors with children. Of course, no one under the age of 21 is allowed in the casino.

The rooms are spacious and well done. The service is above and beyond. The resort offers numerous amenities for guests such as fitness center, gift shop, jacuzzi and spa.24-hour room service is available as well as 5 bars/lounges or 2 poolside bars.

No. 4 – Things to do

Along with the things to do surrounding Mardi Gras if you visit during that time, the area has lots of other things to see and do. Mardi Gras season is of course full of parades, gumbo cook-offs, the chick run and more!

The chicken run? Well, let me tell you – the most fun I have had in a long, long time. Floats line up early and once they set out they stop throughout the community with the trucks and trailers, ATVs, and people on horseback and beg for ingredients to make a gumbo. It’s an ancient tradition of begging where the revelers go from house to house dancing to Zydeco music for the owners to lend them ingredients for the communal gumbo to be made later that evening. The chicken run is held on Mardi Gras Day.

At each stop a whistle is blown, a chicken is tossed in the air and the children in the parade chase the chicken! There is a lot of whooping, hollering and dancing that takes place during the process! It’s quite an honor to catch the chicken. The chasing of the chicken is reserved for children only.

Note: The chickens used are actually roosters and well taken care of. No roosters are harmed or injured during the Chicken Run and are returned to their owner (who lends his birds for the occasion) when the run is complete.

It’s a family affair that is true Cajun Mardi Gras tradition. Lots of laughter, music and fun is had by all!

The area is full of museums and family entertainment as well. A visit to the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu will have you in awe of the colorful costumes, the creativity involved and the meaning behind so many of the items you’ll see.

Although a small museum, it houses the largest Mardi Gras costume display in the world.

Other museums in the area include the Brimstone Museum (area history), DeQuincy Railroad Museum, USS Orleck Naval Museum and the Children’s Museum (hands-on activities) to name a few.

The Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point is a free, fun attraction that immerses you in nature and Louisiana’s unique culture. Through imaginative, hands-on displays, you can learn the best places to spot alligators and migrating songbirds, take a peek at wildlife found in bayous and marshes, smell the aromas of Cajun/Creole cooking, and “play along” with a Cajun and Zydeco band.

Art from local artists hang on the walls of the center and those working there are full of knowledge and interesting facts about the area.

If you start your nature trail at Adventure Point, you’ll leave with a better understanding of the area and a map and guide to the best route and way to truly experience the natural beauty and wildlife of the area.

Gator Chateau is home to rescued, baby alligators that are fostered until they are able to be released back into their natural habitat. It’s the best place to be educated in all things Alligator! The babies are hand fed, they don’t bite, and you can hold them and take your picture!

The Casinos – You will find the following games in Lake Charles casinos: Slot machines, Video Poker, Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Baccarat, 3 Card Poker, Pai Gow Poker, Let it Ride, Mississippi Stud, Four Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Blackjack – Single Deck , Blackjack Double Deck, No Craps Craps, No Limit Holdem, Omaha, Let It Ride Bonus Poker, Texas Hold’em Bonus, Omaha Hi-Lo, Limit Holdem, Pot Limit Omaha.

You’ll find minimum bets of $.01 on slot machines so you won’t break the bank to enjoy some casino fun!

The largest casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana according to gaming machines and table games put together, is the Golden Nugget. It has 1600 gaming machines and 72 table games.

No. 5 – The People

The people that call Lake Charles and the Southwest portion of Louisiana home are some of the nicest people you will ever come across.

They welcome each visitor as if they are old friends and spend time to share their area with you. Whether you visit during Mardi Gras season – or any other time of year – you will find that the people of Southwest Louisiana welcome you with open arms, a great big smile and lots of good food.

I hope you’ll think about a visit to Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana for your next family vacation adventure! I know I can’t wait to go back.

I was provided an all-expense trip to the Lake Charles area by the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions are my own.

 




Put-in-Bay – The Crown Jewel Of Lake Erie

Just north of the sleepy little town of Port Clinton, Ohio – midway between Toledo and Cleveland –  lies the Bass Islands. Accessible only by ferryboat, plane or private watercraft, is the village many have dubbed the Key West Of The North, Put-in-Bay. By winter fewer than 500 people call this island home where ice fishing, euchre, and potlucks pass the lonely winter.

When spring rolls around hundreds of cottagers and many thousands of tourists will flock to the island with many days seeing in excess of 30,000 visitors. Home to the world’s longest bar the Beer Barrel Saloon, this sleepy village brings a family vacation to a new level with quite a large number of attractions all paced into a tiny 2.5 by 5-mile island.

Nearly every day of the season there are Put-in-Bay Events that appeal to young and old alike from historical to family fun events like the popular Pirate Fest held annually in late June. Few vacation destinations in the United States offer so many varied things to do in such a small area as Put-in-Bay.

Wineries with guided tours, caves to explore, rock walls to climb and so much more. An aquatic Center operated by the Ohio State University affords children and adults the opportunity to learn about the ecosystem of Lake Erie and kids get to fish from the docks with equipment provided by the center.

In the center of the island, towering over 300 feet into the air, the Perry International Peace Memorial with an observation deck at the top that delivers a stunning 360-degree view to the Lake Erie islands as well as the Detroit and Toledo Skylines.

After ascending to the top, rangers offer a narrated tour about the history of the Doric Colum, the third tallest in the United States. At the base of the column, rangers reenact historical battles complete with musket firing demonstration and period correct garb.

The Monument and its grounds are designated as part of the National Parks of the United States.

Photo Credit: Visit Put In Bay

Two ferry-boat companies serve the island. The Miller Ferry is responsible for transportation of freight and vehicles to the island and also carries passengers.

The Jet Express is the primary ferry for the transportation of passengers with five high-speed catamarans that arrive into the downtown area. The Jet Express is the only ferry-boat that offers late night service and a downtown location.

You will not need your vehicle on the island and they are in fact discouraged. Long wait times and few parking spots will greet those who choose to bring a car.

Once on the island you will quickly notice that cars, for the most part, have been replaced by Put-in-Bay Golf Carts. Reservations are suggested prior to arrival as often times there are more tourists than carts! Operated under the same rules as a car, golf carts can be driven just about anywhere on the island and seat between up to eight people.

In the winter months, the Put-in-Bay airport serves as a lifeline to residents as small aircraft deliver medical needs, fresh bread, milk and produce.

In the summer the airport is a hub of activity with old style barnstormers offering flights in a restored Waco airplane over the islands. Several helicopters also operate from the facility taking guest on rides of varying length with some great photos opportunities.

Photo Credit: ShoresandIslands.com

If water sports are your passion, there are Jet Ski Rentals, boat rentals, and kayaks at numerous locations complete with training and a large open riding area.

Parasailing, either solo or double, is a big hit and boats operate off the docks of the popular Boardwalk Restaurant complex in the downtown area. Riders can fly up to 1000 feet in the air and stay completely dry or be “dipped” into the water for a cool off.

Foodies will not be disappointed as the village features over twenty great dining options from resort casual to upscale. Lake Erie herself provides two of the most popular local dishes -Walleye and Lake Erie Yellow Perch – caught locally and prepared fresh daily. If you have never experienced Lake Erie Yellow Perch lightly dusted and fried you don’t know what you are missing!

All the basic food types are available on the island from steak to BBQ and the local grocery store is well stocked with everything you need should you prefer a cookout in the park.

The are several Put-in-Bay Hotels Resorts and Home Rental options, many with modern amenities such as fitness centers and swim up bars. The Put-in-Bay Resort is the island’s largest and newest facility and is located just a block from the downtown area. The resort has a large heated pool with swim up bar and is popular with locals.

The Put-in-Bay Villas are ideal for those who have larger groups and prefer a more modern home rental complete with linens and maid service.

Bay Lodging Resort just a few blocks from town has a rather unique pool that is half indoors and half outdoors. You actually swim under the building to go from one to the other! The property has 2 bedroom rentals and standard hotel rooms and is very popular with families.

Photo Credit: South Bass Island State Park

Put-in-Bay is also home to the South Bass Island State Park which is part of the Ohio Parks System. The park has a playground for children, a bathing beach and is a popular place for a family picnic. Primitive campsites, as well as a limited number of full service sites, offer campers some great views of the Western shoreline and sunsets.

Vacation dollars these days are harder than ever to come by. Put-in-Bay Ohio offers travelers more options than most for a lower cost and in many cases free things to do. Stop by this summer and experience the “Key West Of The North”

 




Key West Top 5 Waterfront Dining Spots

Everyone should visit Key West at least once in their lifetime. If you have never been to Key West, you are in for a real treat. There is something for everyone to do in Key West.

Of course, some of the most popular Key West tourist activities involve the water and include things like dolphin encounters, kayaking the backcountry, diving and snorkeling at Ft. Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas, or renting a boat at one of the many Key West marinas to explore on your own.

On land, there is shopping, museums, art galleries, tours, theaters and more. You can also just relax in the sand on the beach or by the pool at one of the many hotels.

Some of the most fun can be had just strolling along Duval Street with a cocktail in hand before stopping to eat some delicious seafood at one of the many spots for dining.

Of course, enjoying a meal in one of the many waterfront spots is relaxing and here are some of my suggestions for great waterfront dining spots:

Half Shell Raw Bar

A favorite of fishermen and locals as well as tourists, this former shrimp packing building is now a well visited spot on Margaret Street. Half Shell Raw Bar is located at the Key West Bight Marina so you’ll love the view while enjoying oysters, clams and peel ‘n’ eat shrimp.

Photo Credit: Half Shell Raw Bar Key West

A daily happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 can satisfy your appetite with 50% off cocktails and good food!

Hot Tin Roof

Named after Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” this restaurant pairs upscale island fare with beautiful views. Hot Tin Roof (0 Duval St., Key West) sits right above Sunset Pier, so you can take in the nightlife and music from afar. Hot Tin Roof is the perfect location for a romantic dinner.

Photo Credit: Pure Wow

The menu offers a mix of seafood and land fare prepared in a unique culinary style dubbed “conch-fusion,” combining traditional Florida with Caribbean influences.

Louie’s Backyard

Housed in an oceanfront Victorian home, Louie’s Backyardlocated at700 Waddell Avenue, offers panoramic views of the ocean. The renovated home serves some of the best seafood around and offers three different dining experiences.

Photo Credit: Louie’s Backyard

Guests can have tapas-style items such as fried artichokes and truffled cauliflower at The Café on the upper deck, sit down for a full meal at Louie’s Backyard or grab cocktails on the Afterdeck Bar, which sits just 25 inches above the water.

Sunset Pier

Nestled between Key West Harbor and adjacent to the famed Mallory Square, Sunset Pier is the best place in Key West to enjoy Gulf side waterfront dining. With its colorful chairs and live music, Sunset Pier on Duval Street is a casual spot where you can watch boats go by as the sun sets.

Photo Credit: Sunset Pier

Sunset Pier also offers nightly music and dancing, with entertainers from the islands.

Turtle Kraals

Turtle Kraals on Margaret Street is all about keeping the island’s seafaring traditions alive. The restaurant is located in the Historic Seaport District. Visit for the view and the great food – but stay for the live turtle races!

Key West’s colorful mix of food and culture is influenced by generations of settlers from the nearby Caribbean islands. Turtle Kraals Bar & Restaurant celebrates this culinary blend of the tropics by delivering authentic Key West dining and cocktails on the waterfront in a unique and historic location.

Photo Credit: Turtle Kraals

The Tower Bar on the second floor lets you take advantage of the full menu and offers postcard-worthy views of boats pulling in and out of Key West harbor. House supplied binoculars help make distant discoveries or point them just below to the sight of captains bringing in the day’s catch.

Do you have a favorite Key West waterfront dining spot?




Re-living a 1961 Civil Rights Sit-In and Becoming Friends with One of the Friendship Nine

Where were you in 1961? In 1961 I was going on 7 years old and living a peaceful and happy life in New Jersey. I did, however, grow-up hearing stories of the Civil Rights Movement and some history making things that took place in the early 60’s.

I grew up with a deep understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women that were an important part of the movement.

the story of the famous sit-in: 

The Friendship Nine, or Rock Hill Nine, was a group of African-American young men who went to jail after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory’s lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961.

The group gained nationwide attention because they followed the 1960 Nashville sit-in strategy of “Jail, No Bail”, which lessened the huge financial burden civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South.

They became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill’s Friendship Junior College.

On Jan. 31, 1961, students from Friendship Junior College and others picketed McCrory’s on Main Street in Rock Hill, SC to protest the segregated lunch counters at the business.

They walked in, took seats at the counter and ordered hamburgers, soft drinks and coffee. The students were refused service and ordered to leave. When they didn’t, they were arrested.

Photo Credit Charlotte Observer

The next day, 10 were convicted of trespassing and breach of the peace and sentenced to serve 30 days in jail or pay a $100 fine. One man paid the fine, but the remaining nine — eight of whom were Friendship students —chose to take the sentence of 30 days hard labor at the York County Prison Farm.

Photo Credit Charlotte Observer

Their choosing jail over a fine or bail marked a first in the Civil Rights Movement since the 1960 Nashville sit-ins, and it sparked the “jail, no bail” strategy that came to be emulated in other places.

In 2007 the city of Rock Hill unveiled an historic marker honoring the Friendship Nine at a reception honoring the men. At that time, eight of the Friendship Nine were living.

  • Robert McCullough (died on August 7, 2006)
  • John Gaines
  • Thomas Gaither (at the time, he was a field secretary with the Congress of Racial Equality and was the only one of the nine who was not a Friendship student)
  • Clarence Graham (died on March 25, 2016)
  • Willie Thomas [W.T. “Dub”] Massey
  • Willie McCleod
  • James Wells (died on July 7, 2018)
  • David Williamson Jr.
  • Mack Workman

In 2015, Judge John C. Hayes III of Rock Hill overturned the convictions of the nine, stating:

“We cannot rewrite history, but we can

right history.”

Photo Credit CNN.com

Prosecutor Kevin Brackett apologized to the eight men still living, who were in court. The men were represented at the hearing by Ernest A. Finney, Jr., the same lawyer who had defended them originally, who subsequently went on to become the first African-American Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court since Reconstruction.

Fast Forward Almost 60 Years

February 23, 2019, as part of a media tour of the South Carolina upstate, I had breakfast with David Williamson, Jr.

Before breakfast was over, I shed a few tears. Why? Because of the man I was sitting with. A humble man. So humble, in fact, that his children never knew of his involvement in 1961 until his daughter went to college at Winthrop University and saw an article about the Friendship Nine and his name was there.

He sat at that same lunch counter, on a stool with a little metal plaque with his name on it. The McCrory’s 5 and 10 is long gone and the lunch counter just recently closed. It sits frozen in time with little metal plaques on each stool telling us who sat where on that day so long ago.

A man, now in his 70’s, who played such a huge role for civil rights in our country but yet takes no credit for the role he played.

After being released from the “work farm” he went home and went back to school. His family never spoke of what he did and what he was such a huge part of.

After finishing school he moved with his high school sweetheart to New Jersey. I asked him why he chose to move rather than stay in his home town. His answer – he needed to make money to support his family and he could do that much better in New Jersey. In Rock Hill he was known as a “jail bird.”

He stayed in New Jersey for many years and worked various jobs from shining shoes to cleaning tables to finally where he ended up – a banker.

He is spending the last years of his life in his home town. A town that in 1961 didn’t allow him to sit at a lunch counter without going to jail. He happily greets people that want to say hello. A town that has gone from sending him to jail for refusing to leave after being denied a hamburger to now thinking of him as a hero. He holds no ill-will.

He is a funny man. You can sit for hours and listen to his stories of that day in 1961, about his 30 days in jail. He insists there was no major plan except that they must be non-violent.

Thrown in the middle of his funny stories are statements that make you look at him with huge amounts of respect. Simple statements he makes almost as an aside. When one journalist asked about the girls in the group his quiet answer was “we couldn’t let them go to jail – we didn’t know what would happen to them in the jails – they had to be protected.”

Would he do it again? That’s a difficult question for him to answer because he would say both yes and no. Yes because he did it to try to help bring about change. For that reason he would do it again. He doesn’t like recognition and attention. He doesn’t like being in the limelight so he definitely wouldn’t want to do it again and bring any attention to himself.

I asked his thoughts on the current climate in our country regarding race. He stopped to think before answering and sadly and quietly said – “unfortunately, history is repeating itself as it often does.” He does, however, believe that we shall once again get on the right track when it comes to racial unity.

The Friendship Nine remained friends throughout the years. Always kept in touch and knew what was happening in each other’s lives. They shared a bond that could never be broken.

 

There is a children’s book written about the Friendship Nine that everyone should read and share with their children. It’s an important part of the Civil Rights Movement that should not be forgotten.

Many of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement will never be forgotten. However, we must also make sure that the work of other activists are remembered too. They were ordinary people who fought against discrimination and prejudice in little ways that made a huge impact.

Unfortunately, they may never find their names in a history book, on a display board or in a museum. 

Fortunately, this book is now part of the Social Studies curriculum in South Carolina.

I believe that if everyone could spend just a little bit of time with Mr. Williamson, we would have a much healthier relationship with race, racial tension and racial unity. He is a special man for sure. I am honored that I was given the opportunity to spend time with him.

When he found out I was born and raised in New Jersey, he gave me a hug and called me his homey! I am proud and honored to be his homey!

I know I will think of him often and share his story to all who will listen.

I was provided an all-expense paid trip to the area as part of Travel South USA.  All opinions are my own.