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Transcript of Viola Liuzzo
Viola lived in Chattanooga, TN from the age of six.
She only attended high school for one year before dropping out. She entered her first marriage at the age of only 16; within a year, she was divorced. She married again in 1943, to George Argyris. They had two children, Penny and Evangeline. Again Viola divorced, splitting from George in 1949. She later married Anthony Liuzzo. Anthony was a business agent for the Teamsters, a well known labor union. Together they had 3 children: Tommy, Anthony Jr., and Sally. Despite her less than outstanding previous
academic career, Viola returned to school
at the age of 35, enrolling at Carnegie
Institute of Detroit. She also enrolled part-time at Wayne State University. She became active in local efforts to reform the educational and economic justice. Twice she was arrested for her involvement; she pleaded guilty both times, insisting on a trial to publicize and promote the causes for which she was an advocate of. Early connections to the African American Community:
After her second wedding, Viola met Sara Evans, an African America woman who quickly became her best friend. Sara cared for Viola's children while Viola worked and eventually became the Liuzzo's full-time nanny and house keeper. Sara is quoted as having said, "Viola Liuzzo lived a life that combined the care of her family and her home with a concern for the world around her. This involvement with her times was not always understood by her friends; nor was it appreciated by those around her." Viola's Involvement in the Civil Rights Movement Viola began attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit and through Sara became active in the Detroit portion of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Viola had a sort of "spiritual journey" in which she sought a personal relationship with God and found a desire to make a difference in the world. She found that at First Unitarian Universalist the ideology both matched her faith and her desire to be of service to society. Jimmy Lee Jackson and "Bloody Sunday" In Alabama during February of 1965, a young African American by the name of Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed by a fatal injury from the police following a voter's rights demonstration. In response, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a march from Selma to the state capitol of Alabama.
On March 7, 500 peaceful marchers were brutally attacked by the Alabama State Troops in what became known as "Bloody Sunday." MLK Jr. urged people to gather in Selma to march in protest. "Bloody Sunday" Disgusted and horrified by the event, Viola drove 3 days to Selma to join the march. Upon her arrival she initially worked at the hospitality desk, welcoming and registering other guests. Over the duration of the march she worked several different jobs; on the last day she walked the last 4 mile stretch barefoot. In this time she met Leroy Moton. The march ended in Montgomery.
Viola and Leroy drove five people back to Selma, and then she offered to return Leroy to Montgomery. The Murder No one was convicted for murder. One of the four, Gary Thomas Rowe, was an FBI informant and thus under the protection of the FBI. He also testified for the prosecution and received immunity. The other three eventually received ten years for violations of Viola's civil rights. Her children tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI to acknowledge complicity in their mother's death. As far as the justice system went, Viola's death was unavenged. The circumstances of the attack came from word of Leroy Moton and Rowe. HOWEVER Viola was an activist in trying to secure voting rights for African Americans. It is strongly argued that her death helped greatly with the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, removing things like the literacy test and poll taxes. Viola, though the subject of some criticism, was over-all hailed as a heroine. Monuments to her were set up in the place where she died The NAACP held a televised service to recognize Viola. Her funeral was attended by many prominent figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. She was also the first white
woman to be killed in the
Civil Rights Movement. Her memorial reads:
"In memory of our sister Viola Liuzzo who gave her life in the struggle for the right to vote...." A mother An activist A victim An idol A Martyr. (see the poster)
An African American man named
Leroy Moton had been using Viola's car as an airport shuttle. At the end of the march, Viola drove five passengers back to Selma, after which Viola offered to drive Leroy back to Montgomery. A car of KKK members spotted the two and followed them. Viola tried to make the first car pass, deliberately slowing down, but a second car came and boxed her in. The Klansmen eventually pulled up beside her, shot through her window hitting her twice and causing her to crash. Viola died, but Leroy was unharmed, and once the men had left, Leroy left the car and went for help.