Botetourt County’s Most Famous Son: Norvel Lee’s story living on through historical marker

State officials along with Lee’s family were in attendance for the momentous occasion.

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – Norvel Ray Lee’s legacy and story is carrying on as a historical marker was revealed in the place he grew up.

Lee’s story is often not told to people living in Botetourt County. Even some of the leaders in the county like Supervisor Steve Clinton had not even heard of the man until recently.

“I find myself just wishing I had known him…except I didn’t know him…didn’t even know of him,” Clinton said.

Norvel Lee had a list full of accomplishments. To name a few, he was an olympic gold medal winning boxer, Tuskegee Airman, World War II veteran, Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves and more.

One of the more notable ‘accomplishments’ was Lee’s standpoint on civil rights. While returning home from the Olympic games, Lee was asked to give up his train seat to a white person. This was in the era of Jim Crow laws where it was illegal for people of color to sit in sections designated to white faces.

Lee was arrested and his case would eventually reach the Supreme Court of Virginia. The judge would rule in favor of Lee and it would come down as a landmark case for civil rights in the commonwealth.

“This is deserved not just because of his athleticism in the boxing arena…it’s deserved because of his humanity in life’s arena,” Clinton said.

Tiffany Ayler is Lee’s granddaughter. She made the trip down from Alaska to be at the ceremony on Saturday. Even she didn’t know much of her grandfather’s achievements.

“Growing up he was just grandpa. He’s a gentle giant, a man of few words but when he walked into a room you expect a command presence…you just gravitated towards him,” Ayler said.

She would find out most of her grandfather’s legacy by reading the book “Norvel” by Kenneth F. Conklin. The author himself was also in attendance on Saturday.

“It’s long overdue…long overdue for his recognition. Although he wasn’t a person who desired recognition…it’s nice that people finally get a chance to know about Norvel Lee,” Ayler said.

The book would lead to a section of highway 220 being named the Norvel Lee highway. His historical marker sits right off the highway.

About the Author:

Connor Dietrich joined the 10 News team in June 2022. Originally from Castle Rock, Colorado, he's ready to step away from the Rockies and step into the Blue Ridge scenery.