DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A piece of forgotten history remembering a dark era in America is being reclaimed in Durham. A new state historical marker was unveiled at the corner of Broad Street and Club Boulevard in Durham honoring Private Booker T. Spicely, a Black U.S. Army soldier shot nearby in 1944 for resisting Jim Crow laws on a bus.
Spicely was part of the war effort during World War II. The Virginia native was stationed at Camp Butner and was on leave visiting friends in Durham in 1944. He was in uniform while boarding a local bus sitting in the second to the last row. That's when some White soldiers got on the bus and the bus driver told him to move back.
Having worked in the North and not aware of North Carolina's segregation laws, he was rightfully upset. Spicely decided to take a stand, saying "I thought I was fighting this war for democracy." He argued with the bus driver, Herman Council, who told him to "shut up and get off" and when he got off the bus driver shot him.
Spicely tried to go to a nearby hospital but was denied medical help because of his skin color and later died. Council was charged with murder but was acquitted by an all-White jury.
Spicely took a stand years before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a bus, sparking the Civil Rights Movement and even Spicely's own family wasn't fully aware of the extent of the story, but they said learning about it and being in Durham in person for the unveiling was a reminder that this truly was not that long ago in the span of U.S. history.
"What he was doing when he did that, any one of us could've made a decision you say enough is enough," said his cousin Cynthia Walker Mitchell. "There's been a roller coaster of emotions, first, shock when I'm finding out, and anger when I'm finding out that nothing happened to this man that killed him, and excitement to know that something is indeed being done here in Durham."
Mitchell and other Spicely family members made the trip from Virginia for the unveiling, on what would have been Spicely's birthday.
The language used on this sign is also significant. It is the first state historic marker to specifically mention the racist Jim Crow laws that existed in the segregated South at the time. And as more of these stories come forward, there may be more in the future to educate people so they can learn from history.