1324 GA Highway 49 South | Americus Georgia 31719

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Peacemakers Series – Viola Liuzzo

Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.

Viola Liuzzo black and white portrait

Viola Liuzzo (1925-1965) was a Civil Rights activist who came from her home in Michigan to aid those marching in Alabama. She was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members at the age of 39. Liuzzo grew up in rural Georgia and Tennessee. Her family did not have money and her father struggled to keep a job to support his family. During World War II, her family moved to Michigan in order for her father to get a job in a factory. By 1950, Liuzzo was married to James Liuzzo and had five children. She lived in Detroit and was a part-time student at Wayne State University.

I felt very strongly about this woman and her goodness. She inspired us all. Her energy, enthusiasm, and compassion were contagious and put many of us to shame. In that vast assembly gathered in Selma from all over the United States, I doubt if anyone equaled her in dedication, in action or in charity toward their fellow man. Mrs. Luizzo died in the service of Almighty God, performing works of charity. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

-Father Deasy at Viola’s funeral

As she heard about the Civil Rights Movement taking place in the South, she wanted to become more involved. She participated in marches in 1965 to demonstrate solidarity with those in the South trying to get the right to vote. In March 1965, she watched footage of the march to Montgomery being interrupted by violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This sight and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s appeal to Americans to aid their efforts moved Liuzzo to leave her home and family to go to Selma, Alabama to help the cause. 25,000 other people also came to Alabama upon King’s request.

Viola Liuzzo lived a life that combined the care of her family and her home with a concern for the world around her. This involvement with her times was not always understood by her friends; nor was it appreciated by those around her.

-Sarah Evans, Viola Liuzzo’s friend.

While in Selma, Liuzzo worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They were transporting marchers between Selma and Montgomery. On March 25, she and fellow worker Leroy Moton were driving to Montgomery to pick up the remaining demonstrators. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan drove up to their car and fired shots. Liuzzo was killed instantly and Moton survived. The Klansmen were caught and tried, but none of the four of them served any jail time for the murder of Liuzzo. Shortly after this murder, President Johnson had the KKK federally investigated and the Voting Rights Act was created. One of the men in the car was an FBI informant and the FBI quickly became concerned for their apparent involvement in the act. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI began to spread lies in order to taint Liuzzo’s reputation and turn public opinion against her. Despite this attempt to disgrace Liuzzo, she is remembered as a martyr for the cause of Civil Rights. Her life is honored on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery and a marker stands on Highway 80 where she was killed.

My wife died for a sacred battle, the rights of humanity. She had one concern and only one in mind. She took a quote from Abraham Lincoln that all men are created equal and that’s the way she believed.

-James Liuzzo, Viola’s husband
Viola Liuzzo memorial
AJ Muste and Dorothy Day at a Vietnam War protest

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