Art students send a message after racist graffiti painted on rock

An 8-foot spirit rock outside a South Carolina high school has a bright, new message of solidarity after students replaced a racist message left by a vandal.

Less than a week after a judge in Rock Hill righted a wrong of the Jim Crow era, someone used white spray paint to scrawl “Happy N***er Month KKK” on the rock outside the city’s South Pointe High School, an apparent reference to the start of Black History Month.

The crime likely happened overnight Saturday. A school employee noticed the vandalism Sunday, according to a police incident report, and a maintenance worker quickly painted over the graffiti.

Art students at the school then grabbed brushes and cans of paint to make a point.

By Monday, three students had painted the Earth over a rainbow backdrop with yellow handprints and the words “WE ARE ALL” and a large equal sign on the rock.

“I wanted the students to stop texting and tweeting and blogging that image,” said visual arts teacher Ashley Beard. “We wanted to replace it with something positive.”

Rock Hill police officers reviewed school surveillance video but it was so “dark and grainy,” they were not able to identify any potential suspects in the vandalism, Capt. Mark Bollinger said.

“While the district is disappointed in the actions of those who painted the rock, we will not let them take from us our joy or success in the progress our community has made, and will continue to make, in racial relations,” according to a statement posted on the Rock Hill School District’s Facebook page.

Just days earlier, the Rock Hill community honored members of the Friendship Nine, who led a protest during the civil rights era. A judge erased their convictions, related to a 1961 sit-in at a segregated lunch counter.

The men were convicted of trespassing and ordered to pay a $100 fine or spend 30 days at a work camp.

“Kids all over the country were going to school — demonstrating in the afternoon, after school, in the mornings, and then being arrested, then paying the fine and we weren’t making any progress,” Friendship Nine member Clarence Graham told CNN.

All but one of the students from Friendship College opted for the jail time.

“So ‘jail, no bail’ gave us an opportunity to be arrested, spend the 30 days in jail without paying the money. In so doing, it would help keep the money in our treasury and not swell the treasury of the city and the county,” Graham said.

“After that, it caught on. By summer, you had kids from all over the country filling the jailhouses up,” Graham said.

After writing a book about the Friendship Nine, a local children’s author urged 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett to seek a pardon for the men.

“A pardon is an act of forgiveness, but what these guys needed was not forgiveness. What these guys needed was justice,” Brackett said.

“Justice served is the greatest interest of man on earth,” Judge John C. Hayes III said about his move to officially vacate the convictions.

Hayes is the nephew of the judge who presided over the case.

“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history,” Hayes said.

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