On March 25, 1965, Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit housewife and Civil Rights adovocate, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. She was killed on the final night of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. She is honored at the Montgomery Civil Rights Memorial.
“Saturday brought the Liuzzo family the news that Governor George Romney of Michigan had declared Monday and Tuesday days of statewide mourning for Viola Liuzzo… Governor Romney spent 45 minutes with the Liuzzos and later told the press that Viola’s death “reminded me of the death of Joan of Arc.” Ministers throughout the city–both black and white–spoke of Viola Liuzzo’s sacrifice in their Sunday sermons… Reverend Fulton Bradley of the Tabernacle Baptist Church proclaimed that “…Mrs. Liuzzo is another of the great martyrs who lived and died for a cause.” Martin Luther King, who had announced that he would attend the Liuzzo funeral, appeared on Sunday’s Meet the Press… The family had invited 100 guests (including Martin Luther King, Jr., who did attend), and after they were seated, others–estimated at about 150–were allowed to join them [at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Detroit].” (pg 176-178)
After Liuzzo’s death, her family endured a cross burning and hate mail at their Detroit home. Her children were harassed at school. Liuzzo’s husband hired armed guards for protection. A smear campaign, engineered by the FBI, hinted that Liuzzo used drugs and had illicit relationships with black men.
Today, a stone marker stands along U.S. 80 in Alabama’s Lowndes County, near the spot where Viola Gregg Liuzzo was fatally shot by Klansmen while shuttling demonstrators after the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march.
The Alabama marker honoring Liuzzo was erected by the Women of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1991. At the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Liuzzo is the only white woman honored among the martyrs.
On April 10, 2015, Liuzzo’s former school, Wayne State University, plans to award her an honorary doctor of laws degree. It’s the first posthumous honorary degree in the 145-year-old school’s history. Wayne State also will dedicate a tree or green space for Liuzzo.
The Informant by Gary May, 2005
Viola Liuzzo entry from Encyclopedia of Detroit.
Susan Whitall, “WSU to honor civil rights martyr Liuzzo with degree”, Detroit News, February 26, 2015.
Susan Whitall, “‘Selma’ recalls Detroit civil rights martyr”, Detroit News, January 9, 2015
For more information, consult
Home of the brave, a 2004 movie about Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old wife and mother of five, who was the only white woman killed during the civil rights movement.
Free at last : civil rights heroes from the Learning Channel also contains a segment on Viola Liuzzo.
From Selma to sorrow : the life and death of Viola Liuzzo / Mary Stanton, by the University of Georgia Press explores the life, murder, and legacy of the civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo murdered by the Klan in 1965.
Zlati Meyer, “This week in Michigan history: Viola Liuzzo killed by Klansmen in Alabama”, Detroit Free Press, March 23, 2014.
Susan Whitall, “Family emotional as WSU honors civil rights activist”, Detroit News, April 10, 2015.
Joanne Giannino, “Viola Liuzzo : A civil rights martyr”, Michigan History, September-October 2015, pp.49-54
There is an archival collection for Ms. Liuzzo, who was also a Wayne State student, at the Reuther Library.