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From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo
     

From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo

by Mary Stanton
 

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More than thirty years after the murder of Viola Liuzzo by the Ku Klux Klan, she remains an enigma. Some saw her as a dedicated civil rights worker, others as a troubled housewife. Some thought she was a victim of random violence and government conspiracy, while others thought she was an unfit mother who got what she deserved.

From Selma to Sorrow is the

Overview

More than thirty years after the murder of Viola Liuzzo by the Ku Klux Klan, she remains an enigma. Some saw her as a dedicated civil rights worker, others as a troubled housewife. Some thought she was a victim of random violence and government conspiracy, while others thought she was an unfit mother who got what she deserved.

From Selma to Sorrow is the first full-length biography of the only white woman honored at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. Born and reared in the South, Liuzzo moved to Detroit as an adult. At the time of her death she was married to a high-ranking Teamster and had five children. While a part-time student at Wayne State University she became involved in civil rights protests and decided to participate in a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. On March 25, 1965, Liuzzo and a young black man named Leroy Moton were on their way from Selma to Montgomery after the march. Klansmen followed Liuzzo's car along Highway 80 for twenty miles, then pulled alongside and fired shots. Liuzzo was killed instantly and Moton, covered with her blood, escaped by pretending to be dead when the killers returned.

Because this group of Klansmen included an FBI informant, Liuzzo lost her life in more ways than one. To deflect attention and to cover up his recklessness in permitting a known violent racist to work undercover during the march, J. Edgar Hoover crafted a malicious public relations campaign that unfairly portrayed Liuzzo as an unstable woman who abandoned her family to stir up trouble in the South. The years of unrelenting accusations, innuendos, and lies nearly destroyed her husband and five children.

In From Selma to Sorrow Mary Stanton searches for the truth about Liuzzo's life and death, using extensive interviews, public records, and FBI case files to tell a startling story of murder, betrayal, and passion.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating story of courage and commitment, dramatically told, as well as a sobering commentary on American government."--Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States

"Tragic and poignant . . . Mary Stanton superbly details the saga of a true American hero and how her own government sought to defame her."--Mary E. King, author of Freedom Song

"A work of careful research and fast-paced narrative. Engrossing, enlightening, and long overdue."--Wyn Craig Wade, author of The Fiery Cross

“Finally—more than thirty years after she was murdered by Klansmen on the Selma-to-Montgomery highway—we have Viola Liuzzo's story. Author Mary Stanton paints a portrait of an extraordinary woman, and at the same time, she provides an intriguing account of her search for the truth about Liuzzo and the circumstances of her death."--Morris Dees, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center

"Fascinating . . . Should be a required text for anyone who believes prejudice and racism are figments of the black imagination or a thing of the past."--Charlotte Observer

"I hope that this beautifully realized book introduces this brave and committed woman to Americans of every age."--Fourth Genre

"An important contribution to civil rights history.”--Publishers Weekly

"Stanton’s fascinating story of a neglected civil rights hero is long overdue. . . . Stanton ably creates a portrait of a woman who was determined to have her life stand for something.”--Detroit News

author of A People’s History of the United States - Howard Zinn

A fascinating story of courage and commitment, dramatically told, as well as a sobering commentary on American government.

author of Freedom Song - Mary E. King

Tragic and poignant . . . Mary Stanton superbly details the saga of a true American hero and how her own government sought to defame her.

author of The Fiery Cross - Wyn Craig Wade

A work of careful research and fast-paced narrative. Engrossing, enlightening, and long overdue.

Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center - Morris Dees

Finally—more than thirty years after she was murdered by Klansmen on the Selma-to-Montgomery highway—we have Viola Liuzzo's story. Author Mary Stanton paints a portrait of an extraordinary woman, and at the same time, she provides an intriguing account of her search for the truth about Liuzzo and the circumstances of her death.

Fourth Genre

I hope that this beautifully realized book introduces this brave and committed woman to Americans of every age.

Charlotte Observer

Fascinating . . . Should be a required text for anyone who believes prejudice and racism are figments of the black imagination or a thing of the past.

Detroit News

Stanton’s fascinating story of a neglected civil rights hero is long overdue. . . . Stanton ably creates a portrait of a woman who was determined to have her life stand for something.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A suburban Detroit housewife and part-time student at Wayne State University, Viola Liuzzo joined the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. Driving along a deserted highway with a young black man the night of the march, she was shot and killed, becoming, briefly, a martyr of the civil rights movement before questions about her character and motives clouded her memory. What kind of a mother would leave young children and run the risk of violence in the South? What was she doing alone in her car with a black man? Through her research, freelance writer Stanton found reason to believe that the accusations against Liuzzo were trumped up by the FBI to divert attention from the agency's own dubious role in Liuzzo's murder. A paid FBI informer was in the car that forced Liuzzo off the road, and he was later accused of being the shooter as well. Stanton traces her interest in Liuzzo back to the night of the murder, when the author was in high school. She compares her life with Liuzzo's, chronicling both women's dissatisfaction with traditional female roles. In re-creating her subject's life, Stanton relies on media coverage and personal interviews, and while her speculations on Liuzzo's thoughts and the FBI's role in the murder are not verifiable, the author provides an all-too-likely scenario for a government conspiracy. In writing about Liuzzo's activism, Stanton herself has made an important contribution to civil rights history. 23 illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Freelance writer Stanton has produced the first full-length adult biography of Viola Liuzzo, a white Civil Rights worker who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1965, just a few hours after the Selma voting rights march ended. Strangely, instead of being considered a martyr for the Civil Rights cause, Liuzzo was almost immediately vilified as a troubled, interfering Northerner whose "proper" place should have been home tending her five children. Eventually, she was memorialized in the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery (the only white woman so recognized) and also at the site where she was shot. But as Stanton makes clear, justice was never served in punishing her killer. This investigation of a neglected figure and her stirring times is appropriate for academic and public library collections.--Patricia A. Beaber, Trenton State Coll. Lib., Lawrenceville, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A loving tribute to civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo adds a heartfelt, substantive, and long- neglected page to the movement's historical record. Liuzzo, a white, 39-year-old wife and mother of five from Detroit, was gunned down on a deserted highway while ferrying demonstrators between Montgomery and Selma, Ala., after the 1965 voting rights march. She was killed for traveling alone at night with a black manþa Deep South taboo that caused many, north and south, to claim she got what she deserved. The savageness of the country's unfounded attack on Liuzzo's moral character destroyed her family and ruined her reputation. Many of the rumors of adultery, interracial sex, drug abuse, mental instability, and child abandonment were orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover to deflect criticism from the FBI for ignoring warnings from an informant, who accompanied the killers and was eventually accused of pulling the trigger himself. At the time of Liuzzo's murder, Stanton was a young woman from Queens in the "twilight" that existed, in those prefeminist days, between high school graduation and marriage. Impressed by Liuzzo's flouting of social convention, Stanton (human resources director for Manhattan's Riverside Church) experienced an awakening that led to college and a stint of social activism in Appalachia. Approaching 50 and puzzled by Liuzzo's status as historical persona non grata (not a single book was written about her in the 20 years since her death), Stanton tackled the project herselfþwith no agent, no publisher, no advance. It amounts to a personal quest, producing a book that is more spiritual journey than straight autobiography. Stanton admits losing objectivity, but she hasnothing to fear: she rights a grievous wrong in rehabilitating Liuzzo's legacy, and her research is thorough and unassailable. Stanton righteously reclaims a broken reputation from history's dustbin. Her Liuzzo is not a saint, but a courageous womanþrestless, idealistic, stubborn, principled, and tragically ahead of her time. (23 illustrations, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780820322742
Publisher:
University of Georgia Press
Publication date:
09/01/2000
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
1,318,105
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.82(d)

Meet the Author


Mary Stanton is a public administrator for The Town of Mamaroneck in Westchester County, New York. She has taught at the University of Idaho, the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey, and Rutgers University. Her work has appeared in Southern Exposure, Alabama Heritage, and the Gulf South Historical Review. Stanton is also the author of From Selma to Sorrow (Georgia) and Freedom Walk.

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