Watch now (38 secs) | Meet Firestarter Viola Liuzzo. She was a wife and mother of five who left her family in Detroit to drive to Alabama to march with Martin Luther King Jr. Viola was helping to shuttle Black demonstrators between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, when she was shot to death in her car by a member of the KKK on March 26, 1965. Viola was the only white woman to be killed in the civil rights movement.
Thank you for spotlighting firestarter Viola Liuzzo. In my work as a board member for The Elmore Bolling Initiative in Alabama (www.bollinginitiative.org), I have been to the historic marker at the site of Liuzzo's murder on Highway 80 in Lowndes County, which is known as "Bloody Lowndes" for its long history of extreme racial terror violence. Both Liuzzo and Elmore Bolling were murdered with guns. And in both cases, though locals knew who committed the murders, no jury in state court would convict the killers. Bolling was Black and murdered in 1947, but Liuzzo's murder occurred at the height of the Civil Rights movement, motivating the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal conspiracy charges against her killers. All three were found guilty and served time in Federal prison.
Tahirih was the first known woman to give up her life for women's democracy. She was Persian and a follower of the Baha'i Faith. Before she was strangled to death with her own scarf in 1852, her known last words were, "You can kill me but you will not stop the emancipation of women."
"She led the contingent advocating for radical change," says Layli Miller-Muro, the founder and chief executive of the Tahirih Justice Centre in the United States.
• U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan
• NY AG Letitia James
• Fulton County DA Fani Willis
• Stacey Abrams
• Sherrilyn Ifill
• Professor Anita Hill
• Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw
Viola Luizzo is one of my “Sheroes.” She was relevant as an ally during the Civil Rights Era for her courage and impact with Rabbis Abraham Heschel, Sy Dresner, and Robert Marx.
We must remember women did not share an equal platform with men during the Civil Rights struggle. Viola Luizzo’s contribution as a driver was consequential to The Movement, and her ultimate sacrifice was historically significant.
Gabby Giffords. Pat Maisch. Tucson survivors and fierce warriors for gun sense in America.
Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run a marathon. Before women were allowed to race, she registered for the Boston Marathon as KC Switzer to avoid detection. She was attacked by the marathon organizer during the race, who tried to rip her bib number off when other runners came to her aid. She continues to advocate for women's rights and empowerment through sports
In a similar vein as Viola Liuzzo is Anne Braden, a prominent figure in the southern civil rights movement who lived in the deep south during the Jim Crow era. She led a delegation of white women to protest against the execution of Willie McGee, a Black man accused of raping a white woman, and was arrested for it. As a journalist, she used her talents to support the interracial wing of the labor movement. She was charged with sedition during the height of McCarthyism after she and her husband purchased a home in a segregated neighborhood on behalf of a Black couple, Charlotte and Andrew Wade, whose home was blown up with dynamite while they were away shortly after they moved in. She continued to serve as an educator and to use her journalism to highlight civil rights violations in the South long before awareness of such violations entered the mainstream media.