Fighting for the disenfranchised and victims of injustice was the driving force behind Viola Gregg Liuzzo (1925-1965) who was the first white female Civil Rights Activist killed during the American civil rights movement. She traveled to Alabama in March 1965 to help the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Liuzzo knew firsthand about the racial injustices that African Americans often suffered in the South, having spent some of her youth in Tennessee and Georgia, among other places. Her decision to go to Alabama was influenced by the “Bloody Sunday” events in Selma.
Not long after her arrival, in an effort to register African-American voters in Selma, Liuzzo was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan while driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. She was the only known white female killed during the Civil Rights Movement.
Years after her brutal murder Viola Gregg Liuzzo was among the 40 civil rights martyrs honored on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, created in 1989. Two years later, the Women of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference placed a marker where she was killed on Highway 80.
According to Biography.com, 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. In 2006, Liuzzo was also inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame.
For the bravery of women like Viola Gregg Liuzzo who fought for justice in a hateful and racially hostile environment, we salute you as we celebrate #NationalWomensHistoryMonth!