Pvt. Booker T. Spicely

Location: Durham County, North Carolina

Age: 34

Year: 1944

Pvt. Booker T. Spicely, 34, was a U.S. Army private on active duty who was killed in Durham County, North Carolina, in 1944.

On July 8 1944, Spicely, originally from Philadelphia and serving at Camp Butner, boarded a bus and sat in the second-to-last row. When more white passengers boarded, the bus driver, Herman Lee Council, ordered Spicely to sit further back. Jim Crow seating segregation was still enforced in North Carolina at the time.

The private initially protested, but eventually moved to the rear of the vehicle.

Council was employed by the Duke Power Company, who owned and operated the local buses.

When Spicely got off the bus, Council shot him twice, alleging that Spicely had started an argument and advanced on him.

Military police brought Spicely to Watts Hospital, where on account of his race he was refused care; he later died at Duke Hospital.

Council was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The Duke Power Company paid his $2,500 bail. Council was permitted to drive his bus until the trial.

At trial, an all-white jury acquitted him after only 28 minutes of deliberation. The power company continued to employ Council, but switched his route.

For more information, search CRRJ’s archive.

Read more about Spicely’s death on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive

About the Archive

The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive houses case files and documents for more than 1,000 cases of racial homicides in the Jim Crow South. Co-founded by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Margaret Burnham, CRRJ director and professor of law at Northeastern, these uncovered stories highlight how violence affected lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics between 1930 and 1954.

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