CHARLESTON, S.C. – In a stunning reversal, the Charleston Five, union longshoremen who spent nearly 20 months under house arrest for daring to picket a non-union shipping company, were freed after South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon was forced out of the case.
The settlement came in two hearings in which the five defendants pleaded “no contest” to a misdemeanor and paid $309 each in fines and court costs.
Jason Edgerton and Kenneth Jefferson were freed in a Nov. 8 hearing. The other three won their freedom in a 10-minute hearing Nov. 13.
Lionel S. Lofton, attorney for Washington and Simmons, told the World that a plea of no contest is not an admission of guilt. They can apply to have their record expunged in three years. If it had not been for the politics of the situation, this case could have been settled a year ago.”
“The attorney general was forced to remove himself. He withdrew from the case the day before a court hearing on our motion to have him disqualified for his misconduct,” said Ford’s attorney, Arman Derfner, who is also the lawyer for Local 1422.
“This was a victory for the people. Condon tried to make political capital by pounding on the unions. He failed. We don’t have heaven here in South Carolina but this victory shows there is a reservoir of decency here that we can tap into and grow.”
Two miles away at the Local 1422 union hall there was a mood of celebration.
“This is a great victory,” said Local 1422 President Ken Riley, who had barnstormed across the nation and around the world to free the Charleston Five.
“We are planning a series of celebrations in the cities where we had Free the Charleston five committees. The Charleston five will go to those cities to thank the people for their support. We couldn’t have won this victory without that solidarity. We have to go after Condon. We have to defeat him in the Republican primary next year.”