Learning the names I should have been taught, part 2.

Roman Ducksworth Jr.’s children knew he died, but they didn’t know how.  They found out when they each received letters from the Southern Poverty Law Center, wishing to memorialize their father on the Civil Rights Memorial.  Roman’s kids found out how he died and why he was considered a martyr around the same time that everyone else did in 1989.  In an effort to prevent her sons and daughters from developing a hatred of all white people, Roman’s wife, Melva, didn’t tell their kids what really happened.  Their children grew up believing their father died in the line of duty as a military police officer and not at the hands of a white police officer in Taylorsville, Mississippi.  

Melva was in the hospital with her and Roman’s sixth child.  Roman fell asleep on the bus, riding down from Maryland to be with his wife.  When the bus driver wasn’t able to wake Roman, he called the police.  The police officer assumed that Roman was drunk.  Some say the officer woke Roman by hitting him in the face.  During an altercation off the bus, the police officer shot Ducksworth in the chest.  Family was there at the station to pick-up Roman and saw the events unfold.  Roman’s nephew held him as he died in the street, waiting for an ambulance from a black hospital to arrive.  Hospitals were segregated at this time and regardless of proximity, families of color had to use facilities designated for them, even if that meant waiting for a longer amount of time to receive treatment.  Roman’s daughter was born safely, but he died without knowing she and his wife were well.  

Ducksworth’s killing was labeled a justifiable homicide and the cross burning down the street from his brother’s home made it clear that pursuing any justice would be met with consequences.  The officer who shot and killed Roman lived until 2004 and faced no penalties.  Melva Ducksworth moved her family to Illinois where she worked two jobs for the majority of her life to provide for her six children.  Her eldest son, Cordero, helped his younger siblings get up and ready for school and helped them get ready for bed daily.  He is the only one of Roman Ducksworth Jr.’s children with developed memories of him.  His cousin, Odell, can never really leave April 9, 1962.  It exists, always in the periphery, brought forth fresh and renewed with each new instance of police brutality.  Each time another black man is killed for doing a perfectly normal thing, like sleeping, Odell remembers his uncle, bleeding in his arms.

Roman Ducksworth Jr. didn’t ride a bus down to Mississippi to protest, to march, to be a freedom fighter.  He rode a bus to be with his wife who needed him during a difficult pregnancy.  Those in charge assumed he was obviously there to cause trouble.  He was killed because people believed he was fighting for civil rights. The Taylorsville Police Department has no records of this justifiable homicide, nor does the state of Mississippi.  


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