Viola Luizzo

Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (April 11, 1925-March 25, 1965), a Unitarian Universalist committed to work for education and economic justice, gave her life for the cause of civil rights. The 39-year-old mother of five was murdered by white supremacists after her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Liuzzo was also active in local efforts on behalf of reform in education and economic justice. Twice she was arrested, pleaded guilty, and insisted on a trial to publicize the causes for which she was an advocate. Evans said of her friend, "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."

In 1964 Liuzzo began attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, two blocks from the Wayne State campus, and, through Evans, became active in the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). That same year Evans and Liuzzo drove to New York City to attend a United Nations Seminar on civil rights sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

Liuzzo, with millions of other Americans, had seen on television the horror happening in the South. On March 8 she decided to go to Selma.

On Sunday, March 21, she joined 3,000 other marchers as, five abreast; they marched across the Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday, and began the trek towards Montgomery. On Monday and Tuesday she continued her work at Brown Chapel's registration desk and also made shuttle runs from the airport to the marchers' campsite. Afterward she served at the campsite's first-aid station.

On March 24 Liuzzo stayed overnight at St. Jude's, a complex of buildings including a Catholic Church, hospital and school, just inside the Montgomery city limits. From the church tower she watched the approach of 25,000 marchers. When she came down from the tower, unsettled and anxious, she told Timothy Deasy, one of the parish priests, "Father, I have a feeling of apprehension. Something is going to happen today. Someone is going to be killed."

Calmer after prayer, she joined the marchers, barefoot, for the last four miles to the capitol building in Montgomery. With everyone else she sang freedom songs and listened to the speeches. When the march was over, Liuzzo met civil rights worker Leroy Moton, who had been using her car all day as an airport shuttle. The two of them drove five passengers back to Selma. When they were dropped off, Viola volunteered to return Moton to Montgomery.

Viola's biographer, Mary Stanton, describes the ride to Selma. "Between the airport and Selma a car full of whites drove up behind them and banged into the bumper of the Oldsmobile several times before passing . . . When they stopped for gas, Moton remembered, white bystanders shouted insults at the integrated group. Further along, the driver of another car turned on his high beams and left them shining into Vi's rearview mirror. Members of a KKK "missionary squad"—Collie Leroy Wilkins, Jr., William Orville Eaton, and Eugene Thomas—spotted Liuzzo and Moton stopped at a traffic light in Selma. They followed her car for twenty miles. While she attempted to outrun her pursuers, she sang at the top of her lungs, "We Shall Overcome." About half way between Selma and Montgomery the four men pulled their car up next to hers and shot at her. Liuzzo was killed instantly. Her car rolled into a ditch. Moton escaped injury. In 2002, nearly forty years after their deaths, a Selma Memorial plaque, honoring Jimmy Lee Jackson, James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, was dedicated at the UUA's Boston headquarters building at 25 Beacon Street.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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