On July 8, 1944, Pvt. Booker T. Spicely, in uniform, was shot and killed by a bus driver in Durham, NC. On this Saturday evening, Spicely boarded the bus at the same time as a young woman with a child, and another African-American soldier. The men were headed back to their base at Camp Butner.
Spicely and the others sat in the next to the last row of the bus. When the bus driver, Herman Lee Council, reached the next stop, he asked Spicely and the other to move further back so that a group of white soldiers, also headed back to base, could take their seats. The woman and other soldier complied, but Spicely, who was from Virginia, protested. Eventually he moved to the last row on the bus.
Words were exchanged between the passenger and the bus driver, and Spicely said nothing further until he reached his destination, whereupon Spicely exited the bus from the rear door to avoid Council, who was beckoning him to the front of the bus. Spicely instead asked Council to talk with him off the bus. As Spicely walked toward the front of the bus Council grabbed 38- caliber pistol and shot Spicely in the heart. Pvt. Spicely was unarmed. As he lay on the pavement dying, Council reentered the bus, shut the doors, completed his route, and later turned himself in to the police. The Duke Power Company, which owned and operated the buses in Durham, bailed Council out a few hours later.
CCouncil was charged with murder and placed on trial. In the months leading up to the trial Spicely’s family, particularly his brother Robert, fought hard to ensure that Council would be held accountable for his crime.
On September 15, 1944, after only 28 minutes of deliberation a jury returned a verdict of not guilty.