WASHINGTON - A group of black civil rights activists was exonerated Wednesday in the United States, more than 50 years after being condemned to hard labour for sitting in a white-only area.
A judge in Rock Hill, South Carolina overturned the convictions of the "Friendship Nine" during a symbolic and at times emotional court session.
"We cannot re-write history but we can right history," Judge John Hayes said, quoted by the Charlotte Observer.
The activists were represented by the lawyer who defended them decades ago. Four men from the group were present.
On January 31, 1961 the group mostly composed of students from nearby Friendship College went into a restaurant reserved for whites in the city of Rock Hill to protest segregation laws.
With the country's civil rights movement for racial equality gaining steam, the nine young men sat down at the restaurant's counter, ordered food and refused to leave until they were arrested.
Sentenced the next day, most in the group chose 30 days' hard labour instead of a US$100 fine as a protest against giving the judiciary more money.
The men were punished at the time solely because they were black, public prosecutor Kevin Brackett said during the court session that was broadcast on NBC.
"Allow me to take this opportunity to extend to each of you my heartfelt apology for what happened to you," Brackett said.
"It was wrong then, it is wrong today."