Dear NC Marker Advisory Committee Members,
The Durham People’s Alliance strongly supports the placement of a historical marker honoring the legacy of Booker T. Spicely, a martyr of the Civil Rights movement who was killed in Durham, North Carolina in 1944.
On July 8, 1944, Pvt. Spicely, a black servicemember during World War II, was seated in the next-to-last row of a Durham bus headed for Camp Butner. At a subsequent stop, the bus’ white driver directed Spicely and a group of other black passengers to move to the last row so that a group of white soldiers could take their seats. Spicely protested, saying, “I thought I was fighting this war for democracy.” Although Spicely ultimately changed seats, when he got off the bus at the corner of what is now Berkeley Street and Club Boulevard, the driver shot him twice in the chest.
Spicely was transported to Watts Hospital, which refused to treat him because he was Black. By the time he reached Duke Hospital, it was too late to save him. The Durham Black community and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, including future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, assisted in the prosecution of the case. However, the driver was ultimately acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.
As a nearly 50-year old, membership-driven organization that advocates for justice in Durham, we believe that North Carolinians and visitors should have the opportunity to learn all of our history — the good and the bad. Pvt. Spicely advocacy helped ignite the Civil Rights movement and deserves to be remembered. It is a stark reminder of the evils of racism and the enduring spirit of those who stood up in opposition. A historical marker would prompt us to reflect on the history all around us and the difficult past that is closer to the present than we might wish.
Thank you for your consideration,
The People’s Alliance