Viola Liuzzo


Viola Liuzzo : biography

April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965

On April 27, 1967, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the federal convictions of the surviving defendants. Thomas served six years in prison for the crime.

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).


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,Ingalls, 1979. 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.

Liuzzo was the subject of a 2004 documentary Home of the Brave. She was featured in "Free at Last (part 3)." Her murder was dramatized in Episode 2 of the King miniseries.

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.

In 2008, Liuzzo’s story was memorialized in a song, "Color Blind Angel" by the late blues singer Robin Rogers on her album, Treat Me Right.

An episode of the CBS TV series, Cold Case, entitled "Wednesday’s Women", was loosely based on her case.

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.