I chose Viola Gregg Liuzzo after watching the play “The Sound of Freedom” at B Street Theater because I was impressed with her bravery of what she did with the black people. She was a civil rights activist who was born in California, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1925. Her mom, Eva Wilson Gregg, got a teaching certificate from the University of Pittsburgh. After the family moved to Michigan her mother found a job working at a bomb factory and then one at a Ford Motor plant. Her dad Heber Ernest Gregg, worked in a coal mine before his right hand blew off in an explosion underground. He left school when he was in eighth grade and taught himself how to read. Viola also had a sister who was eleven years younger, and her name was Rose Mary.
It was hard for her parents to get a job. The schools didn’t have the right supplies needed and the teachers were too busy to give extra attention to students who need help. Her family was really poor and they lived in a one-room house with no running water. They moved from Georgia to Tennessee during the Great Depression. She also lived in Detroit, Michigan. She and her family moved a lot. Due to that reason, Viola Liuzzo had never began and ended the school year in the same place. She also dropped out of high school against her parent’s wishes.
She enrolled in night classes at a career training school called the Carnegie Institute of Detroit. While she was there she learned how to become a medical laboratory assistant. She graduated in 1962 with Honors, and received a gold metal for her academic achievements. Then, using her knowledge, Liuzzo went to work at the Parkview Medical Center. Her first job was as a waitress. She also found a part-time job at Sinai Hospital. In May 1962 she registered at Wayne State University where she took English, philosophy, and other subjects. At sixteen years of age Viola ran away and married an older man. The marriage only lasted one day. After she moved to Michigan, she met and married a man named George Argyris. At that time she was only eighteen years old. In 1946 they had their first daughter – Penellipi, in 1948 their second daughter – Mary Eva. After seven years of marriage the young couple divorced. Soon after that Viola met Anthony James Liuzzo, who was a business agent for the Teamsters Union. She became a Catholic and married in 1950. Not after long, the couple had two sons. Thomas was born in 1951, and then followed Anthony Jr. in 1955. Next, in 1958 came a daughter Sally, who was born with severe health issues. Luckly, she overcame them with the help of her mother’s care and attention. The Luizzos were a middle class family living in a racially integrated neighborhood in Detroit Michigan.
Viola Luizzo is known for being a Civil Rights activist and fighting to give Black people the right to vote. There is a stone marker where she was killed on highway 80 in Alabama. Her death raised support in Congress for the passage of Voting Rights Act.
Viola Liuzzo died in Lowndesboro, Alabama on March 25, 1965. On that day she was on the way home to Montgomery, Alabama. She was coming back from a protest in Selma, Alabama. She was driving with a Civil Rights worker, a Black teenager, Leroy Moton on Highway 80. On the way home, a car chased them down and eventually made them pull over. One of the passengers in the car, a member from the Ku Klux Klan, shot Liuzzo in the face twice and she died instantly. Moton survived the attack only because he faked his death in the car by using Liuzzo’s blood. After the killers left, Moton ran three miles before he found safety with other Civil Rights workers. The car ended up in a ditch where Luizzo died.
- Stanton, Mary “Viola Gregg Liuzzo” Encyclopedia of Alabama, Published date: October 24, 2007. Access date: January 31, 2019. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1377
- ‘Viola Gregg Liuzzo Biography’ A&E Television Networks, Published date: April 2, 2014 Access date: January 31, 2019. https://www.biography.com/people/viola-gregg-liuzzo-370152