Army Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr. was stationed at Fort Ritchie, Maryland, in the spring of 1962 when he traveled to see his pregnant wife, who was suffering from severe complications with their sixth child in Mississippi.
He never made it home. A police officer ordered him off the bus and shot him dead.
The officer might have thought Ducksworth was one of the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who traveled through the Deep South to challenge the segregation of interstate transportation. But he was just a man trying to see his family.
Ducksworth is among the martyrs of the civil rights movement who are remembered in a new children’s activity book that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial Center (CRMC) published online this week.
The Civil Rights Activity Book includes coloring pages for Ducksworth and other martyrs who are listed on the Civil Rights Memorial. It also includes a word search, a crossword puzzle that requires knowledge about the civil rights movement, a listing of major events during the movement, a maze tracing civil rights icon Rosa Parks’ walking path from work to home, and descriptions of major people in the movement, followed by the question, “Who am I?”
Not to worry, though: All the answers are at the end of the book.
“The Civil Rights Activity Book is another tool we are using to teach our children about those who died so that we can appreciate the rights we have today,” said Tafeni English, director of the CRMC. “Most of us know about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but this book gives us an opportunity to lift up other people, too, who – like Ducksworth – lost their lives in the struggle for civil rights but whose names are not commonly known.”
The Civil Rights Activity Book was developed entirely by SPLC staff members. It was written by Lecia Brooks, a member of the SPLC’s senior management team; designed by Scott Phillips, SPLC senior creative lead; and illustrated by Sunny Paulk, an SPLC designer.
The book is one of the initiatives that the CRMC has taken on since it closed its doors in March due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The SPLC made the closure in order to limit exposure of CRMC employees to the virus and to protect the health and safety of visitors.
But the CRMC is continuing its activities online.
Soon, a virtual tour of the center will be available. The video tour will show the features inside the CRMC, including exhibits about civil rights martyrs.
The Civil Rights Memorial, which celebrated 30 years in November, was created by Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin. It is a circular black granite table across the street from the SPLC’s headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, that records the names of the martyrs and chronicles the history of the movement in lines that radiate like the hands of a clock.
Water emerges from the table's center and flows evenly across the top. On a curved black granite wall behind the table is engraved Martin Luther King Jr.’s well-known paraphrase of Amos 5:24: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The 40 martyrs selected for the Memorial fit at least one of three criteria: They were murdered because they were active in the movement; they were killed as acts of terror aimed at intimidating the black community and civil rights activists; or, their deaths, like that of Emmett Till – who also has a coloring page in the children’s activity book – helped to galvanize the movement by demonstrating the brutality faced by Black people in the South.
Although the CRMC is closed until further notice, the outdoor Memorial remains accessible 24/7.
“We are being safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are also continuing our work to honor these heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for civil rights,” English said.