NC Central University officials this week announced that its law school will now sponsor a scholarship for military veterans named to honor a Black serviceman who was the victim of a fatal, racist shooting by a city bus driver more than 80 years ago.

NCCU officials on Wednesday said the School of Law has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to create the Private Booker T. Spicely Endowed Scholarship Fund. 

Duke Energy Foundation officials will present the check to the school on February 1 at the Albert L. Turner School of Law, according to an NCCU press release.

“The scholarship will benefit law students actively involved with and enrolled in the Veterans Law Clinic, and who are working on issues impacting the legal and civil rights of veterans,” according to the release.

The NCCU Veterans Clinic aims to meet the ongoing needs of current and former service members who live in North Carolina. 

The clinic focuses on “benefit claims in various stages of appeals,” according to the release. 

“Cases may revolve around disability claims, survivors’ benefits, pension and other issues,” the release added.

The clinic provides its services pro bono to “those who qualify as in need or who are able to meet the financial eligibility standards as determined by the appropriate legal standards,” school officials said in the release.

Naming the scholarship after Spicely is apt. His 1944 shooting death on a city bus is referenced by local historians as “among a series of outrages contributed to the rising activism in the civil rights movement.”

Spicely was a U.S. Army soldier stationed at Camp Butner who obtained a military pass to visit Durham.

He was shot to death “for allegedly failing to observe the segregated public transportation laws after boarding a Duke Power Company bus at the corner of Fayetteville and Pettigrew streets” in the heart of the Hayti District, according to the release. 

At the onset of the bus ride, the driver, Herman Lee Council, “told Spicely along with another Black soldier and a young woman and her son to move to the last seat for white soldiers who boarded, as public transportation was segregated in the state,” NCCU officials stated in the release.

A young woman also riding the bus gave a sworn statement that indicated that the Black passengers were already in the back area of the bus, and not in the front as reported. 

“The woman moved, but Spicely refused, initially asking the other soldiers why he needed to move since he was not aware of the laws of the state,” according to the release. “When Spicely disembarked from the bus, Council followed and shot him twice.”

Police arrested Council on charges of second-degree murder “but acquitted by an all-white jury on the grounds of self-defense,” according to the release.

Civil rights icon and former U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, then serving as chief counsel of the NAACP, was involved in prosecuting the case, according to the release.

“We are honored to collaborate with the Duke Energy Foundation as we further our commitment to those who valiantly protect our country and have contributed so much to communities across North Carolina and the nation,” Malik Edwards, interim dean of NCCU School of Law, said in the press release. 

“We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world and this partnership sends a clear signal of our law school’s enduring commitment.”

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