Historical Marker unveiled commemorating 1944 CRRJ case, first in NC. to use “Jim Crow”

On December 1, 2023, a North Carolina State Highway Historical Marker was unveiled in honor of Pfc. Booker T. Spicely, the first such marker in North Carolina that makes mention of the term “Jim Crow.”

In 1944, Pfc. Spicely, in uniform and unarmed, was shot and killed by a Durham bus driver just three blocks east of Watts Hospital, after a brief exchange in which Spicely protested the segregated seating on the bus.

Among the crowd of residents, activists, elected public officials and academics in attendance at the unveiling on the corner of Club Boulevard and Broad Street were many members of the Spicely family, including Marilyn Spicely and her husband Lincoln Thomas Spicely, Spicely’s nephew.

 

According to reports, Lincoln Spicely said that the unveiling of the marker was significant and positive for both the family and the Durham community.

“What happened many years ago shouldn’t have been done,” said Spicely, who according to local press coverage, expressed his deep gratitude at the work of committee and those involved in the planning and execution of the marker. It is the first such sign in North Carolina to explicitly call out the role of Jim Crow in the racialized killings and anti-Black violence many communities experienced throughout the country, but particularly in the former Confederate South, during the twentieth century.

Professor Margaret Burnham, founder of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, gave her remarks at the dedication ceremony held at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

Also in attendance was D. Reid Wilson, Secretary of the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources; Christie Norris, Director of Carolina K-12; NCSSM Colours Gospel Choir; and Mary D. Williams, Performing folklorist and adjunct professor at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies.

A clinic student at the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, Shaneka Louise Davis, investigated Spicely’s case in 2014. Her report, published on the CRRJ website, brought the case to national attention, and piqued the interest of attorney James Williams in North Carolina. Williams would go on to head the Booker Spicely Committee that sponsored the events on December 1.

When Spicely boarded the bus, he sat in the second-to-last row, but when white soldiers boarded, the driver, Herbert Lee Council, ordered Spicely to move further back. Spicely argued with the driver, but eventually moved, and attempted to apologize to Council as he disembarked at his stop. Council shot Spicely twice and continued with his route.

Military police brought Spicely to Watts Hospital, where on account of his race he was refused care. He later died at Duke Hospital. Council turned himself in to police and was charged with first-degree murder, which was subsequently reduced to second-degree murder. But an all-white jury found him not guilty after a brief deliberation.

Spicely’s case can be researched in CRRJ’s digital archive.

The unveiling of the historical marker comes after other important steps toward restorative justice have been hard fought and won this year. In January 2023, North Carolina Central University Law School officials announced a $100,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation had been awarded to create the Booker T. Spicely Endowed Scholarship Fund.

This fall, the committee partnered with Carolina K-12 to develop a public school lesson plan incorporating Booker T. Spicely’s case, which was released and will be taught to students in North Carolina  public schools.

The Booker Spicely Committee has plans for a museum exhibition and a dramatic play to further highlight the significance of this case.

Watch the event here.

 

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