The death of an African American soldier in Durham, N.C., soon will be commemorated with an N.C. Highway Historical Marker.
In 1944, Private First Class Booker T. Spicely, who was stationed at Camp Butner, boarded a Durham city bus owned and operated by Duke Power Company. After Spicely objected to segregated seating, he disembarked at West Club Boulevard and what is now Berkeley Street. The white driver, Herman Lee Council, followed Spicely, who was unarmed, off the bus and shot him twice at close range in view of bus passengers.
Just two blocks west sat Watts Hospital, now the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics' Durham campus. At the Watts Hospital emergency department, Spicely was refused care because during segregation the hospital served only whites. He was then taken to Duke Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The case drew statewide attention, galvanized and strengthened North Carolina’s NAACP as a statewide organization, and drew the participation of prominent members of the legal field in North Carolina and across the nation. Spicely’s protest against Jim Crow laws was part of a larger, national civil rights struggle. His challenge occurred more than a decade before Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat sparked the famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.
On Friday, Dec. 1, also Spicely's birthday, members of the Spicely family, the Booker Spicely Committee, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and members of the North Carolina School of Science and Math community will unveil the new state highway historical marker and host a program of speakers and musical performances to honor and remember Spicely. The marker will be dedicated at 3 p.m., at the corner of West Club Boulevard and Broad Street followed by a program at NCSSM's ETC Lecture Hall and a reception.
Durham teachers are encouraged to attend. A lesson plan for teaching about Booker T. Spicely is available at https://k12database.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2023/09/BookerSpicelyLesson.pdf.
For additional information about the historical marker please visit https://ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=G-141.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.