Image: Credit Afro American Newspapers, via Getty Images

Clarence H. Graham has been known by many titles in his hometown: Honor student. Vietnam veteran. Social worker. Father. And criminal, for an act that is now considered heroic.

But in a courtroom last month the State of South Carolina officially vacated the life-changing misdemeanor conviction that it secured more than a half-century ago against Mr. Graham, 72, and other black civil rights protesters who were dragged by the police from a segregated lunch counter, convicted of trespassing and sentenced to 30 days’ labor in a county prison camp.

The men came to be known as the Friendship 9, because most of them were attending a now-defunct local school called Friendship Junior College. Their refusal to pay fines and instead serve jail terms was recognized as an act of courage by fellow activists at the time who copied their tactics and were inspired to escalate efforts to end the segregation of restaurants and other public facilities in the South.

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