Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe: Her Civil Rights Journey
Viola’s daughter 1/19/18 presentation by Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe
Bearing witness to history, members of Temple B’nai Abraham, the wider community and US History students at Livingston High School were privileged to meet and learn from Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe, a civil rights activist. Mary’s mother, Viola Liuzzo, was murdered by the KKK following the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in March, 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a powerful piece of legislation but additional legislation was needed to help everyone vote.
Mary shared that her mom, a White mother of five living in Detroit, was compelled to stand up against racism after seeing the CBS footage of Bloody Sunday on television. On March 7, 1965, racism in America entered homes across the nation as images of police beating demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma flashed across the television. Viola’s husband asked why she was going to Selma because it was not her issue. But Viola felt that this was her issue as an American.
Asked about her mother’s decision to go, Mary reflected that it’s shocking that everyone didn’t go. Mary emphasized that the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson in February, 1965 was a catalyst for the March from Selma to Montgomery. Jackson was a young black man, murdered by the police, when he stood up for his mother and grandfather who were being beaten by the police.
The march on Sunday, March 7 was called Bloody Sunday because of the attacks by the police. Mary explained that the attacks didn’t end on the bridge. The police followed the protestors back to Brown’s Chapel and to their homes. The beating continued all day. John Lewis, now Congressman John Lewis (Atlanta) was badly hurt. Two days later Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the marchers in Selma to try again to march to Montgomery. On the bridge, King sensed the danger ahead. Though the police did attack them, he knew there was no protection for the 50 miles to Montgomery. Thus the march became known as Turn-Around Tuesday. Two weeks later, with federal protection, the marchers did go from Selma to Montgomery.
Mary’s mother Viola helped before and during the march. After celebrations upon arrival in Montgomery, Viola volunteered to drive a Black man back to Selma. Three members of the KKK and an FBI informant followed her car and shot her. Viola was the first White woman killed in the Civil Rights struggle. When individuals can see themselves in the reality of a situation, it becomes personal.
Mary shared that following her mother’s murder, their family was attacked by White racists and others full of hatred. A cross was burned on their front lawn. White adults stoned (threw stones at) her 6 year old sister.
Thirty years after her mother’s murder, Mary traveled to Selma and met some of the people Viola helped, including Jo Ann Bland. Jo Ann Bland who marched on Bloody Sunday and in the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe shared her mother’s story and continues to stand up against racism today. There is much work to do in our community and our country. Bearing witness to history, Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe inspires everyone to engage in the fight to purge the world of this plague.