Search for truth in civil rights era cold case continues

Cordero Ducksworth didn’t know his father was murdered until he was 33 years old.

“I’m 33 years old, married with a child and everyone knows what happened except my siblings and me,” Ducksworth said. “All those years of growing up without a father flashed right back in front of me.”

After his mother told him about his father’s murder in 1989, Ducksworth worked to find the truth about his dad, who was killed by a white police officer in Taylorsville, Miss.

He spoke about his search for the truth in a presentation at the Syracuse University College of Law on Monday night. In an effort to bring those responsible to justice, Ducksworth enlisted the help of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, an SU program founded in 2007 that works on civil rights-era cases.

As a part of the presentation, Ducksworth, his wife and CCJI co-directors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald spoke about Ducksworth’s quest to find justice for his father’s death and other racist crimes committed during the civil rights era. Duckworth’s visit is a part of a yearlong series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of several important civil rights milestones, according to a Feb. 15 SU News release.

On April 9, 1962, Cpl. Roman Ducksworth, Cordero Ducksworth’s father, was traveling on a bus back to Mississippi because his wife was sick when he was awoken by police officer William Kelly. Disoriented from sleep, Roman Ducksworth was unable to defend himself, and was dragged out of the bus and shot in the heart by Kelly, Cordero said.

The murder was ruled a justifiable homicide after Kelly claimed self-defense. No charges were officially brought against Kelly.

Roman Ducksworth’s case is one of 122 that have been opened by the FBI to investigate crimes committed during the civil rights era. The FBI closed Ducksworth’s case after Kelly died.

Even though the suspect died, McDonald, CCJI co-director, said answers still need to be found.

“The issue is justice,” McDonald said. “These acts cannot go down without impunity. Someone has to be held answerable.”

McDonald, co-director Johnson and SU law students continue to do research into cold cases through CCJI.

“Time and again, after talking to the families, you realize that the families are so grateful to have someone take their cases seriously,” said Johnson. “We made the FBI investigate some cases that they weren’t taking seriously.”

Johnson and McDonald said they continue to travel to Mississippi to search through archives about the cases.

“These are cases that need to be addressed, even 50 years later,” Johnson said. “We keep finding evidence that the Justice Department hasn’t looked at, and we keep trying to bring that to their attention.”

McDonald said people ask why they continue to work on these civil rights cases, even 50 years after the crimes. She said there needs to be a sense of closure for families.

“Imagine if it was your father who was killed,” McDonald said. “Even if he was white or black, you would still want to find answers.”

Even though his father’s case is officially closed, Ducksworth said he won’t give up until he gets justice.

“It’s just a beginning for us,” he said. “It’s a late beginning, but it’s still a beginning.”


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