||This article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2009)|
April 11, 1925|
California, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||March 25, 1965
Lowndes County, Alabama, U.S.
|Occupation||Housewife, civil rights activist|
Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965) was a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist from Michigan, who was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama. One of the Klansmen in the car from which the shots were fired was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant.
Family life 
Viola Gregg was born in California, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to Chattanooga, Tennessee at the age of six. After just one year of high school, she dropped out, was married in 1941 at 16, then divorced within a year. In 1943, she married George Argyris. They had two children, Penny and Evangeline Mary, and divorced in 1949. She later married Anthony Liuzzo, a Teamsters union business agent. They had three children: Tommy, Anthony, Jr., and Sally.
Liuzzo sought to return to school, and attended the Carnegie Institute in Detroit, Michigan. She then enrolled part-time at Wayne State University in 1962, and was considered an average student who was academically still in her freshman year at the time of her death.
In 1964, Liuzzo began attending the First Unitarian Church of Detroit and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The murder and funeral 
Liuzzo was horrified by the images of the aborted march on March 7, 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge which became known as "Bloody Sunday." Nine days later, she took part in a protest at Wayne State. She then called her husband to tell him she would be traveling to Selma, saying that the struggle "was everybody's fight."
After the march concluded on March 25, Liuzzo, assisted by Leroy Moton, a 19-year-old African American, helped drive local marchers to African American colleges and to their homes in her 1963 Oldsmobile. As they were driving along Route 80, a car tried to force them off the road. A car with four Klan members then pulled up alongside Liuzzo's car and shot directly at her, hitting her twice in the head, killing her instantly. Her car veered into a ditch and crashed into a fence.
Although Moton was covered with blood, the bullets had missed him. He lay motionless when the Klansmen reached the car to check on their victims. After the car left, he began running for the next half hour looking and searching for help, and eventually flagged down a truck driven by Rev. Leon Riley that was bringing civil rights workers back to Selma.
Liuzzo's funeral was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church on March 30 in Detroit, with many prominent members of both the civil rights movement and government there to pay their respects. Included in this group were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins; Congress on Racial Equality national leader James Farmer; Michigan lieutenant governor William G. Milliken; Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa; and United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther.
Less than two weeks after her death, a charred cross was found in front of four Detroit homes, including the Liuzzo residence.
Arrest and legal proceedings 
The four Klan members in the car, Collie Wilkins (21), FBI informant Gary Rowe (34), William Eaton (41) and Eugene Thomas (42) were quickly arrested: within 24 hours President Lyndon Johnson appeared personally on national television to announce their arrest.
Wilkins, Eaton, and Thomas were indicted for Liuzzo's death on April 22. FBI informant Rowe was not indicted,and served as a witness. Defense lawyer Matt Murphy quickly attempted to have the case dismissed on the grounds that President Johnson had violated the suspects' civil rights when he named them in his televised announcement. Murphy also indicated he would call Johnson as a witness during the upcoming trial.
On May 3 an all-white jury was selected for Wilkins' trial, with Rowe the key witness. Three days later, Murphy made blatantly racist comments during his final arguments, including calling Liuzzo a "white nigger," in order to sway the jury. The tactic was successful enough to result in a mistrial the following day (10-2 in favor of conviction), and on May 10, the three accused killers were part of a Klan parade which closed with a standing ovation for them.
Before the new trial got underway, defense attorney Murphy was killed in an automobile accident, on August 20, when he fell asleep while driving and crashed into a gas tank truck. The former mayor of Birmingham, Alabama Art Hanes agreed to take over representation for all three defendants one week later. Hanes was a staunch segregationist who served as mayor during the tumultuous 1963 period in which police commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor used fire hoses on African American protesters.
After another all-white jury was selected on October 20, the end result two days later saw the panel take less than two hours to acquit Wilkins in Liuzzo's slaying.
The next phase of the lengthy process began when a federal trial charged the defendants with conspiracy to intimidate African-Americans under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction civil rights statute. The charges did not specifically refer to Liuzzo's murder. On December 3, the trio was found guilty by an all-white, all-male jury, and were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While out on appeal, Wilkins and Thomas were each found guilty of firearms violations and sent to jail for those crimes. During this period, the January 15, 1966 edition of the Birmingham News published an ad offering Liuzzo's bullet-ridden car for sale. Asking $3,500, the ad read, "Do you need a crowd-getter? I have a 1963 Oldsmobile two-door in which Mrs. Viola Liuzzo was killed. Bullet holes and everything intact. Ideal to bring in crowds."
After all three defendants were convicted of the federal charges, state murder cases proceeded against Eaton and Thomas. Eaton, the only defendant who remained out of jail, died of a heart attack on March 9. Thomas's state murder trial - the final trial - got underway on September 26, 1966. The prosecution built a strong circumstantial case in the trial that included an FBI ballistics expert testifying that the bullet removed from the woman's brain was fired from a revolver owned by Thomas. Two witnesses testified they had seen Wilkins drinking beer at a VFW Hall near Birmingham, 125 miles from the murder scene, an hour or less after Liuzzo was shot. Despite the presence of eight African Americans on the jury, Thomas was acquitted of the state murder charge the following day after just 90 minutes of deliberations. State attorney general Richmond Flowers, Sr. criticized the verdict, deriding the black members of the panel, who had been carefully screened, as "Uncle Toms."
Due to threats from Klan, both before and after his testimony, Gary Thomas Rowe went into the federal witness protection program. See Rowe v. Griffin, 676 F.2d 524 (1982).
FBI smear campaign 
After Liuzzo's death, the FBI was concerned that they may be held accountable for their informant's (Rowe) role in the death. Rowe had been an informant for the FBI since 1960. The FBI was aware that Rowe had participated in violent activities during Ku Klux Klan activities. On the day of Liuzzo's death, Rowe called his FBI contact and notified him that Rowe and other Klansman were travelling to Montgomery, and that violence was planned. After Liuzzo's death, the FBI initiated a cover-up campaign, to obscure the fact that an FBI informant was in the car, and to ensure that the FBI was not held responsible for permitting their informant to participate in violent acts, without FBI surveillance or backup.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover initiated a campaign to discredit Liuzzo in the eyes of the public. Hoover insinuated to President Johnson that Liuzzo was a drug addict, that she had sex with Moton, and that her husband was involved with organized crime. The FBI leaked the allegations to the media, and several newspapers repeated the claims. Liuzzo's husband attempted to defend his wife's reputation; his daughter Penny states that the disinformation campaign "took the life right out of him .. he started drinking a lot". Autopsy testing in 1965 showed no traces of drugs in Liuzzo's system, and that she had not had sex recently at the time of death. The FBI's role in the smear campaign was uncovered in 1978 when Liuzzo's children obtained case documents from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act.
It is surmised by many (civil rights activists, Liuzzo's children, etc.) that Liuzzo's death helped with the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which removed barriers to voting such as literacy tests and poll taxes. President Lyndon B. Johnson also ordered investigation immediately after the death.
On December 28, 1977 the Liuzzo family, filed a lawsuit against the FBI, charging that Rowe, as an employee of the FBI, had failed to prevent Liuzzo's death and had in effect conspired in the murder. Then, on July 5, 1979, the American Civil Liberties Union, filed another lawsuit on behalf of the family.
Rowe was indicted in 1978 and tried for his involvement in the murder, but the first trial ended in a hung jury, and the second trial ended in his acquittal. See Rowe v. Griffin, 497 F. Supp. 610 (1980) for a complete description of the case.
On May 27, 1983, a judge rejected the claims in the Liuzzo family lawsuit, saying there was "no evidence the FBI was in any type of joint venture with Rowe or conspiracy against Mrs. Liuzzo. Rowe's presence in the car was the principal reason why the crime was solved so quickly." In August 1983, the FBI was awarded US$79,873 in court costs, but costs were later reduced to $3,645 after the ACLU appealed on behalf of the family. See Liuzzo v. US, 565 F. Supp. 640 (1983).
The family's oldest son, Thomas, moved to Alabama in 1978 and legally changed his last name to Lee in 1982 after constant questions about whether he was related to the civil rights martyr.
In 1991, Liuzzo was honored by the Women of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with a marker on the highway (Highway 80) where she was murdered in the Ku Klux Klan attack in 1965.
An episode of the CBS TV series, Cold Case, entitled "Wednesday's Women", was loosely based on her case.
See also 
- "Viola Liuzzo". Uua.org. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Tom Caudron on politics". Tom.digitalelite.com. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Viola Liuzzo". Unitarian Universalist Association. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- "Civil Rights Martyr Viola Liuzzo". Teamsters. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- Stanton, p 130
- "Liuzzo protests car advertising". Baltimore Afro-American. 18 January 1966. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- Stanton, pp 52-55.
- Stanton, pp 52-55.
- Stanton, pp 52-55, 189-192.
- Blake, p 201. Quote from Penny on p. 201.
- Ingalls, 1979.
- Houston, Kay. "The Detroit Housewife Who Moved a Nation Toward Racial Justice". Detroit News. Archived from the original on 1999-04-27.
- Horowitz, Hal (2008-06-24). "Treat Me Right - Robin Rogers : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- Hoods: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan by Robert P. Ingalls. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1979.
- From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo by Mary Stanton. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8203-2045-5
- Murder on the Highway: The Viola Liuzzo Story by Beatrice Siegel
- The many deaths of Viola Liuzzo - 1965 murder of civil rights worker by Jared Taylor
- Children of the Movement, by John Blake, Chicago Review Press, 2007, ISBN 9781569765944
- Viola Liuzzo biography at the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography
- Viola Liuzzo article, Encyclopedia of Alabama
- "The Detroit housewife who moved a nation toward racial justice" (from the Detroit News web site)
- FBI file on Viola Liuzzo
- Documentary film "Home of the Brave"
- "KKK Defeated By Viola Liuzzo & Civil Rights Martyrs" Short video slideshow created by Viola Liuzzo's daughter