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FROM SELMA TO SORROW by Mary Stanton

FROM SELMA TO SORROW

The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo

By Mary Stanton

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8203-2045-5
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

A loving tribute to civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo adds a heartfelt, substantive, and long- neglected page to the movement’s historical record. Liuzzo, a white, 39-year-old wife and mother of five from Detroit, was gunned down on a deserted highway while ferrying demonstrators between Montgomery and Selma, Ala., after the 1965 voting rights march. She was killed for traveling alone at night with a black man—a Deep South taboo that caused many, north and south, to claim she got what she deserved. The savageness of the country’s unfounded attack on Liuzzo’s moral character destroyed her family and ruined her reputation. Many of the rumors of adultery, interracial sex, drug abuse, mental instability, and child abandonment were orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover to deflect criticism from the FBI for ignoring warnings from an informant, who accompanied the killers and was eventually accused of pulling the trigger himself. At the time of Liuzzo’s murder, Stanton was a young woman from Queens in the “twilight” that existed, in those prefeminist days, between high school graduation and marriage. Impressed by Liuzzo’s flouting of social convention, Stanton (human resources director for Manhattan’s Riverside Church) experienced an awakening that led to college and a stint of social activism in Appalachia. Approaching 50 and puzzled by Liuzzo’s status as historical persona non grata (not a single book was written about her in the 20 years since her death), Stanton tackled the project herself—with no agent, no publisher, no advance. It amounts to a personal quest, producing a book that is more spiritual journey than straight autobiography. Stanton admits losing objectivity, but she has nothing to fear: she rights a grievous wrong in rehabilitating Liuzzo’s legacy, and her research is thorough and unassailable. Stanton righteously reclaims a broken reputation from history’s dustbin. Her Liuzzo is not a saint, but a courageous woman—restless, idealistic, stubborn, principled, and tragically ahead of her time. (23 illustrations, not seen)