Viola Liuzzo 

Civil Rights Martyr (1925–1965)
  • Post author:
  • Reading time:2 mins read
You are currently viewing Viola Liuzzo 
Viola Liuzzo on the Civil Rights Memorial at the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Wikimedia Commons

Viola Liuzzo  

Civil Rights Martyr (1925–1965)  

Selma, Alabama, was the site of one of the great campaigns of the civil rights struggle, a place where white supremacists had drawn a line, determined to suppress the growing cry for freedom. In February 1965, a march from Selma to the state capital was blocked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a phalanx of state troopers, who rushed into the crowd, wildly swinging their clubs and whips. When another march was scheduled for March 21—this time under the protection of the National Guard—a call went out to the nation for volunteers. Among those who responded was Viola Liuzzo, a white, thirty-nine-year-old housewife, mother of five, and Catholic convert. Fearing her family would try to dissuade her, she didn’t tell anyone in advance of her plans. Instead she set off from Detroit in her Oldsmobile sedan and called her family from the road, begging them to understand that this was something she had to do. They never saw her again.  

The march was a great success. But that night, as Viola was ferrying a young black civil rights worker, Leroy Moton, on the road back to Selma, a car full of Klansmen sped up beside them and fired a fusillade of bullets into her car. Viola was killed instantly.  

Not everyone honored her actions. But for another America, those who shared Martin Luther King’s vision of justice and dignity for all, Viola’s sacrifice would be remembered as a milestone on the long march to freedom.  

“It’s everybody’s fight. There are too many people who just stand around talking.” —Viola Liuzzo 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

Sign up for our daily prayer emails