Week of events will honor Viola Liuzzo

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News
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Viola Gregg Liuzzo will be honored Friday with a posthumous doctor of laws degree by Wayne State University, but there are many other activities this week that will allow people to pay homage to the civil rights martyr.

Liuzzo, a Detroit mother of five and Wayne State student, was murdered by the KKK in March 1965 in Selma, Alabama, where she was helping with voter registration after seeing TV news footage of violence on “Bloody Sunday” and hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for help. While driving another volunteer home, the Detroiter was shot and killed in her own car as she drove on the Selma-Montgomery highway.

Interest in Liuzzo’s story has grown since the release of the film “Selma,” in which actress Tara Ochs plays her, and attention from the 50th anniversary ceremonies in Selma in March. Now several other Metro Detroit events honoring Liuzzo have come together in the days before and after the WSU ceremonies.

The week of events kicks off Thursday with a screening at Wayne State of the 2004 documentary “Home of the Brave.” The film depicts what happened to Liuzzo on that highway outside Selma, and it shows how her children have struggled for years to get the government to reveal what it knew about her murderers, one of whom was a paid FBI informant.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, what would have been Liuzzo’s 90th birthday, there will be a celebration at Viola Liuzzo Park, at Winthrop and Trojan in Detroit. Until now, the park is one of the few tangible markers in Metro Detroit that pays tribute to her sacrifice.

With city cutbacks, the park has been somewhat neglected in recent years and a coalition — including neighborhood activists, the Greening of Detroit, the UAW-Ford and the Teamsters — have raised money to renovate the park and add walking trails and other amenities.

There also will be two fundraisers for the park this week. First, an event at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Dorothy Turkel/Frank Lloyd Wright house in Palmer Woods where the Liuzzo family attorney Dean Robb will speak. Then at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Gospel Tabernacle Church in Detroit will host a fundraiser.

On Sunday, the Liuzzo children will attend and speak at several Detroit church services, including Conquering King Missionary Baptist at 9 a.m., followed by First Unitarian-Universalist Church at 11 a.m.

On Monday, there will be an ACLU reception at 3 p.m., and at 5:30, a lecture at Wayne State’s Partrich Auditorium featuring Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.



Events honoring Viola Liuzzo


7 p.m.: Screening of the 2004 documentary “Home of the Brave” in Ballroom C of the Wayne State University Student Center, 5221 Gullen Hall, Detroit. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with light refreshments; the film starts at 7. There will be a Q&A with several of Liuzzo’s children afterward. The event is free, a donation to the Viola Liuzzo Scholarship Fund is suggested. For information, email jamilah.jackson@wayne.edu


1:30- 3 p.m.: Presentation of posthumous honorary degree to Viola Liuzzo and special dedication of greenspace, with reception to follow. WSU Law School Partrich Auditorium, 471 Palmer, Detroit.


1 p.m.: Lecture about Liuzzo, “Passionate Undertakings,” by professor Michael Placco at the Lorenzo Cultural Center, Macomb Community College, 44575 Garfield, Clinton Township.

4 p.m.: Special celebration at Viola Liuzzo Park, Winthrop at Trojan ., in northwest Detroit.


9 a.m.: Services at Conquering King Missionary Baptist Church, 9146 Van Dyke, Detroit. (313) 922-6622. Mary Liuzzo, Viola’s daughter, will speak.

11 a.m.: Services at First Unitarian-Universalist Church, 4605 Cass, Detroit. The Liuzzo family will speak.

2 p.m.: Fundraiser for Viola Liuzzo Park at Dorothy Turkel/Frank Lloyd Wright House, Dean Robb, attorney for the Liuzzo family, will speak at 3 p.m. For information, contact colettemezza@gmail.com. RSVP required.


3 p.m.: ACLU of Michigan reception, ACLU of Michigan, 2966 Woodward., Detroit. RSVP to Jennifer Keller at jkeller@aclumich.org

5:30-8:30 p.m.: Civil rights attorney Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will give the Dean A. Robb Annual Public Interest Lecture at the WSU Law School Partrich Auditorium, 471 Palmer. Reception at 5:30. Lecture at 6:30. For information, call (313) 577-3620.


7 p.m.: “Revitalize Viola Liuzzo Park,” a fundraising event by the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights at Gospel Tabernacle Church, 19371 Greenfield, Detroit, featuring Dean Robb, attorney for the Liuzzo family. Suggested donation $5. Light refreshments will be served. For information, contact support@mchr.org.

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