Statue of slain activist Viola Liuzzo unveiled in Detroit

A statue of Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights activist who was slain in Alabama March 25, 1965 after a voting rights march, has been dedicated at the Detroit park that bears her name on the city’s northwest side. The statue unveiled Tuesday shows Liuzzo walking barefoot — with shoes in one hand — and a Ku Klux Klan hood on the ground behind her.

A few hundred people attended the statue unveiling, including Liuzzo’s children, Sally, Mary, Penny, Anthony, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, State Rep. Leslie Love, D-Detroit, and Detroit NAACP Detroit president Rev. Wendell Anthony. Susan Bro, the mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed while peacefully protesting against hate at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was also in attendance.

“Liuzzo’s life tells us to take action in our community and our nation,” said sculptor Austen Brantley, who memorialized the white activist from Detroit.

Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother of five, drove from Detroit to Alabama to join 25,000 others in support of a march led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was driving fellow activists between Montgomery and Selma when she was fatally shot by Ku Klux Klan members in another car.

She was moved to make the journey after seeing TV footage of marchers being beaten on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge during what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” She was helping to shuttle fellow marchers between Montgomery and Selma when shots were fired from a car filled with Ku Klux Klan members, killing her.

A marker was installed in 1991 on the Alabama highway where it happened. It is inscribed to the woman “who gave her life in the struggle for the right to vote.”

The Detroit park was named for Liuzzo in 1982. After years of neglect, the park has received a major face-lift over the past six years, including a $1-million restoration project that resulted in walkways and benches, playground equipment, a picnic shelter and three bioswales (gardens that retain rainwater runoff and divert it from the city’s sewer system).

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