On April 9, 1962, Cpl. Roman Ducksworth, Jr., a military police officer, was killed by Police Officer William Kelly. Ducksworth was traveling to Mississippi on an interstate bus from Forth Ritchie, Maryland to visit his wife who was expecting their sixth child.
There are two different accounts about the events leading up to Ducksworth’s death. The NAACP took on the case, reporting that Kelly shot Ducksworth after he refused Officer Kelly’s order to move to the back of the bus. Ducksworth insisted that he had a right to sit where he chose on the bus. Ducksworth’s brother gave a different account of the events. According to Ducksworth’s brother, when the bus arrived in Taylorsville, Mississippi, Ducksworth’s hometown, Kelly came aboard the bus and awoke Ducksworth by hitting him. Officer Kelly ordered Ducksworth off the bus to beat him. Officer Kelly then shot Ducksworth in the heart. According to this account, Kelly may have mistaken Ducksworth for a “freedom rider” because the bus traveled on the same roads as the Freedom Riders, who were hated in the area for testing bus desegregation laws.
When Ducksworth died, he was a few months short of finishing ten years of service in the US Army. Ducksworth’s death shocked people who knew the Ducksworth family for their farming, church involvement, and support for the community. Ducksworth received full military honors and a 16-gun salute.
Ducksworth’s killing was ruled a justifiable homicide and no charges were brought against Officer Kelly. Officer Kelly claimed that he was defending himself from Ducksworth.