- NAME: Viola Gregg Liuzzo
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist
- BIRTH DATE: April 11, 1925
- DEATH DATE: March 21, 1965
- PLACE OF BIRTH: California (Washington County), Pennsylvania
- PLACE OF DEATH: Selma, Alabama
- AKA: Viola Gregg Liuzzo
- AKA: Viola Liuzzo
- Full Name: Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo
- Maiden Name: Viola Fauver Gregg
- AKA: Viola Gregg
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Viola Gregg Liuzzo was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan for her efforts.
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One of the passengers in the neighboring car shot at Liuzzo, striking her in the face and killing her. The car ended up in a ditch, and Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead.
The following day, President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on television to announce that Liuzzo’s killers had been caught. The police arrested four members of the Ku Klux Klan for the killing: Eugene Thomas, Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr.,
William O. Eaton and Gary Thomas Rowe (who was later revealed to be an F.B.I. informant).
Michigan Governor George Romney visited with Liuzzo’s family after the murder, and stated that Liuzzo “gave her life for what she believed in, and what she believed in is the cause of humanity everywhere,” according to an article in The New York Times.
On March 30, 1965, roughly 350 people attended Liuzzo’s funeral in Detroit, including Martin Luther King Jr., United Automobile Workers Union President Walter P. Reuther, Jimmy Hoffa of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and United States Attorney Lawrence Gubow.
Not long after her death, however, came a campaign to tarnish her reputation, driven by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. Assorted false stories were leaked that she was involved with Moton, and that she was a bad wife and mother.
Eugene Thomas, Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., and William O. Eaton were first represented by Matt H. Murphy, a lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan. After he died in a car accident, former Birmingham mayor Art Hanes took over the case. They were acquitted by an all-white jury on state charges related to the crime, but they later convicted on federal charges.
Thomas and Wilkins were sentenced to 10 years in prison; Eaton died before his sentencing. Rowe had immunity from prosecution and went into the witness protection program. (Thomas and Wilkins later named Rowe as the shooter and he was indicted on murder charges, but they were dismissed because of his immunity deal.)
Despite the efforts to discredit Liuzzo, her murder led President Lyndon B. Johnson to order an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan. It is also believed that her death helped encourage legislators to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Liuzzo's story has been the subject of several books, including Mary Stanton’s From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo (1998).
In 2004, Paola di Florio showed her documentary on Liuzzo, Home of the Brave, at the Sundance Film Festival. The critically acclaimed film explored Liuzzo’s story as well as the impact of her murder on her children. The children had sued the federal government over her murder, but their case was eventually dismissed.
Years after her vicious murder, Liuzzo received some recognition for her personal sacrifice. She is among the 40 civil rights martyrs honored on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, which was created in 1989. Two years later, the Women of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference placed a marker where she was killed on Highway 80. Liuzzo was also inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame in 2006.
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"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Stated by legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., these words represent a basic human philosophy to which black history's greatest leaders have passionately subscribed. Learn more about the world's most revered civil rights activists, known for their fight against social injustices and lasting impact on the lives of black citizens, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
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