Home of the Brave
Directed by Paola di Florio
Thinking much about voter suppression lately, got me to thinking about the Civil Rights Martyrs and of the hard-won right to vote. That's when I discovered this movie at Netflix. Last night, I sat down and watched it, twice.
How soon we forget our Martyrs. How soon we relinquish the rights they won for us at such a cost and with such courage and conviction. We owe them better than that.
Mother of Five
Viola Liuzzo was born April 11, 1925 to Herber and Eva Gregg. Her father lost his hand in a coalmine accident, and worked as best he could after that. Her mother was a teacher. In 1951, Viola was a young divorcee with two young daughters, Penny and Mary, when she married Anthony James Liuzzo, a Teamster official. The couple had three more children, Tommy, Tony, and Sally.
Crisis of Faith
& New Journey
Between the births of Tony and Sally, Viola lost two babies. The first was a baby boy who lived a few hours, & the second was stillborn. Daughter Mary describes Viola's reaction:
According to Catholic doctrine, the stillborn baby, an unbaptized child, could never go to heaven, and my mom couldn't accept that. And she said, "If I as a human being, could not do that to a child, how could and all-loving God do that to a child?" And that's when she left the Catholic doctrine and began exploring everything.From this crisis, Viola began a new journey. She joined the Unitarian Church. She went back to school and studied nursing. She joined the NAACP. And she took greater interest in the events of the day.
March 7, 1965
Viola, like most Americans, was shocked by the scenes of Bloody Sunday. And when Dr Martin Luther King Jr issued the call for clergy and citizens to come to Selma and join the movement, Viola answered that call. Her husband did not try to stop her, or, as one daughter explained, "Perhaps he knew there was no stopping her." Before leaving her family in Detroit and heading to Selma, Viola asked her closest friend, Sarah Evans, to help care for her children should anything happen to her.
March 25, 1965
We Are Not Afraid Today
The 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery took four days. About 6 PM, on March 25th, Viola phoned home. Her son, Tony describes the call:
After my mother called..to say it was over and it had been wonderful..my dad said to be careful. My brother and I started marching around the house singing, "We Shall Over Come"..my dad got very upset with us and told us to stop and explained that it was still very dangerous..two hours later, she was dead."Viola and Leroy Moton volunteered to drive five marchers back to Selma. On the road back to Montgomery, she was pursued by a KKK "missionary squad" and gunned down. She was reportedly singing "We Shall Over Come" at the top of her lungs as she attempted to outrun her attackers. Moton survived the attack.
Smear Campaign and Terror
The family's grief was compounded by the accusations directed at their mother and the terror directed at them. Rocks were thrown through their windows, garbage dumped on their lawn, and the children were taunted at school. A cross was burned on their lawn. Their home had to be guarded at all times.
The KKK sent them a package claiming that their mother was sexually promiscuous and claiming that semen was found in her vagina after her death. Even J Edgar Hoover joined in with a smear campaign of his own, perhaps to distract attention from the FBI informant who was with the attackers at the time of the murder.
The trials were another ordeal for the family. Please follow links for more on the murderers, the role of the FBI, and the struggle for justice. This diary will focus on Viola and her family.
We're Marching On To Freedom Land
Honored as a Martyr
On the night of her death as the family held each other in grief, Viola's eldest son, Tommy, 14, looked into the camera and said:
She wanted equal rights for everyone, no matter the cost.Martin Luther King hailed her as a martyr for civil rights and attended the funeral. President Johnson praised her and pushed to have her murderers brought to justice. And Teamster President James Hoffa compared her bravery to that of the labor martyrs who died in the Ludlow Massacre, the Pullman Strike and the Homstead Massacre. He added:
She had faith in what she believed, and was one of those rare individuals who acted instead of just giving lip service to a principle.President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug 6, 1965, the ultimate way to honor all the martyrs who lost their lives fighting for equal rights for all. And now today, let us honor their sacrifice by exercising our hard-won right to vote and by fighting GOP efforts to suppress the vote.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Film review: Home of the Brave