May 21st: Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo

25 May

Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965)-

Viola was a civil rights worker who was murdered by the Klu Klux Klan in Alabama. She was a mother of 5 in Michigan, who was moved by the Civil Rights movement. She travelled down south to take part in protests and marches. She was helping to drive local marchers home after the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. In her car was 19 year old Leroy Moton, who was an African American. Driving home, they were forced off of the road by another vehicle. The Klansmen shot into the car, hitting Viola twice and killing her. Leroy played dead when the Klansmen came to inspect the car. After they left he ran for help.

The murderers were quickly apprehended. The reason this case can be said to involve the state is that one of the 4 men in the car was an informant for the FBI. The four Klan members in the car, Collie Wilkins (21), FBI informant Gary Rowe (34), William Eaton (41) and Eugene Thomas (42) were all arrested.

A series of all white juries acquitted and mistrialed the case for a while. In the mean time 2 of the Klansmen died from other accidents and natural causes before they ever served time. They were eventually all found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. Gary Rowe, the FBI employee, was put into the Witness Protection Program, because of Death threats from the KKK.

The Klansmen received a lot of community support, even having a parade in their honor.

On December 28, 1977 the Liuzzo family, filed a lawsuit against the FBI. They charged that Rowe, as an employee of the FBI, had failed to prevent Liuzzo’s death and had in effect conspired in the murder. Which would make the state culpable for the murder. Later, the ACLU filed another lawsuit on behalf of the family.

Rowe was indicted in 1978 and tried for his involvement in the murder,but the first trial ended in a hung jury, and the second trial ended in his acquittal.

Ultimately the folks who were accountable for this murder were not truly held accountable. The state and the Klansmen got away with the murder of Viola Liuzzo.

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