This article was originally published by NPR CodeSwitch.
In recent months, the nation has witnessed how questionable police shootings of African-Americans can spark anger and unrest across a community. But long after the demonstrations end, the streets go quiet and the cameras leave, families of those killed have to find ways to cope with their loss. And that’s a private struggle that can last for decades and across generations.
Cordero Ducksworth has lived that struggle. He was 5 years old in 1962, when his father, Army Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., was shot to death by William Kelly, a white Taylorsville, Miss., police officer.
Ducksworth was stationed at Fort Ritchie, Md., in the spring of 1962 when he was traveling home to Mississippi by bus. His wife, Melva, was in a local hospital owing to severe complications late in her pregnancy with their sixth child.
By the time the bus arrived on the night of April 9, Roman had fallen asleep and the driver called Kelly onto the bus to rouse him. Kelly instead arrested the serviceman for drunkenness and directed him to a patrol car across the street.
That’s when things became violent. Once Ducksworth and Kelly were off the bus, they started to tussle, and the officer drew his gun and fired twice — once into the ground and once through Ducksworth’s chest. Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr. was pronounced dead at the scene. He was just 27 years old.