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Remembering a White Casualty of the Civil Rights Struggle

Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe, daughter of Viola
photo: Reed Rudy

This doc recounting the tragic story of Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman killed during the civil rights struggle, doubles as a narrative of the nascent women's movement. (A 39-year-old mother of five, she was gunned down after the 1965 march on Montgomery.) Born into Southern coal-mining poverty, Liuzzo had returned to school after having kids in Michigan, and it was with this newfound confidence that she decided to join MLK's march. In post-murder footage, her son tells a newscaster, "She wanted equal rights for everyone, no matter what the cost." We learn that Liuzzo's teamster husband was tracked by Hoover's FBI; that an informant rode with the Klan members who shot Viola (and may have pulled the trigger); that Viola's FBI file, alleging drug abuse and promiscuity, was larger than the Klan's. Director Paola di Florio finds that, frustrated by Fed stonewalling, one of Liuzzo's sons joined the Michigan Militia, and another withdrew to an Alabama shack he decorated with racist effigies. On a recent trip to the crime scene, a daughter finds a commemorative plaque caged to prevent defacement, underscoring the embattled nature of Viola's victories.


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