The image above is from a 1948 train schedule obtained from the C&O Historical Society in Clifton Forge, Virginia. I went to the society to research the particulars of the train Norvel Lee was on when he was arrested. I specifically wanted to know the time of day train #310 left Covington on its way to Clifton Forge on September 14, 1948. I was taken to a large upstairs room in the building, where there were shelves and files containing archival detailed information on railroads. That historical society at the west end of Clifton Forge, Virginia, is a true treasure for train buffs! I imagine it has to be one of the largest collections in the world. The information I collected helped greatly to support the accuracy of the details described in the prologue of NORVEL.
Last week I reported that I read the 54 page transcript of the court case in one sitting. Here is the section of the record that made me sit up and want to pursue more about what kind of man Norvel Lee was:
T. Moore Butler, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, is questioning Norvel.
Q. Didn't anybody make you sit there? You did that because you were determined to sit there, regardless of the rules?
Q. Why did you do it? Why didn't you go back to the section that was provided for you?
A. Both seats were the same.
Q. You knew you were not supposed to sit in that section?
A. At that time, the sign was turned both ways.
Q. The brakeman got on and advised you. You knew it then didn't you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Why didn't you go back in the colored section? Why didn't you do that?
By the Court: Go ahead and answer the question.
A. I didn't think it was necessary.
For me, that last statement demonstrated the character of Norvel Lee: His intellect, pragmatism, and resilience. Another interesting section in the transcripts is how Norvel's attorney, Martin A. Martin, got into the records - over the objections of Butler - the fact that Norvel had just returned from London as a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.
I later learned that Norvel's attorney, Martin, was a partner with the law firm of Hill, Martin, and Robinson. His partners, Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson joined the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately leading to the racial integration of public schools. All three men were alumni of Howard University and were classmates with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. (As an aside, I recommend the movie Marshall staring Chadwick Boseman).
After absorbing the material in the court documents I wanted to know what Norvel's personal motivation was for his act of civil disobedience. I spent much time and energy during the early phases of the research trying to learn more by visiting Howard University and perusing documents at the Library of Congress. I will have more to say on those efforts in the future.
Next week I will report on getting in contact with one of Norvel's grandchildren.