On Feb. 6, 1961, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent four volunteers to Rock Hill, SC to sit-in: Charles Sherrod, Charles Jones, Diane Nash, Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson. They were sentenced to 30 days. This followed a sit-in a week earlier when 10 African American students in Rock Hill (to become known as the Friendship Nine) were arrested for requesting service at a segregated lunch counter. Saying “Jail, No Bail,” both groups (except for one person) refused to post bail and demanded jail time rather than paying fines as a statement “that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests” and as a practical strategy when financial resources were limited.
The CRMvet.org website describes the origins and use of the “Jail-No-Bail” tactic:
At the October 1960 SNCC strategy conference in Atlanta, some activists argue for “Jail-No-Bail” tactics. They take a Gandhian position that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests. And by serving their sentences, they dramatize the injustice, intensify the struggle, and gain additional media coverage.
There is also a practical component to “Jail-No-Bail.” The Movement has little money and most southern Blacks are poor. It is hard to scrape up bail money, and sit-in struggles are faltering — not from lack of volunteers to risk arrest — but from lack of money to bail them out. Moreover, paying fines provides the cops with financial resources that are then used to continue suppressing the freedom struggle. By refusing bail, they render meaningless the no-money-for-bail barrier and by serving time they put financial pressure on local authorities who have to pay the costs of incarcerating them.
As the Freedom Movement continues into the future, the “Jail-No-Bail” tactic is tried again by many of the Freedom Riders. More than 300 of those arrested in Jackson, Miss., refuse to pay their fines and instead served sentences in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Prison. But in later years, “Jail-No-Bail” is rarely used as a tactic-of-choice. Instead, it is mostly used as a tactic-of-necessity when there is no money available to pay bail or fines. There are a number of reasons for “Jail-No-Bail” becoming the strategy of last resort:
Read more reasons why Jail-No-Bail became the tactic of last resort in the full essay on the “Rock Hill Sit-Ins and Jail-No-Bail” at CRMvet.org.
In 2015, Judge John C. Hayes III overturned the convictions of the Friendship Nine, stating: “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”