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Posts Tagged ‘Viola Liuzzo’

History is always written by the victors. Except in the South…

where Confederate memorials sprouted during the Jim Crow era, and the narrative changed to more “states’ rights” and less “slavery.” I remember being surprised when we first moved to Cville at all the plaques on the side of roads commemorating some minor insurrection or another during the Civil War. That, and the graphic “No guns allowed” outside some stores – which I correctly assumed to mean all other stores were fair game.

Still, I had never heard of a white woman named, Viola Liuzzo. She was a lapsed Catholic who grew up dirt poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee and noticed that her young black neighbors, also living in one room shacks, were treated much worse than her family. Later, she would ask her daughter in a department store how she would feel if all the Santas she ever saw were black? Married, and living a middle-class life in Detroit, she defied her husband to heed MLK Jr’s call to come to Alabama after “Bloody Sunday.”

Last month Viola “…was awarded the Fred L. Shuttlesworth award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on its 25th anniversary – the only white woman killed in the Civil Rights movement.” She believed Civil Rights was everybody’s fight.

She was only 39, the mother of five, when in March of 1965 she was gunned down by the Klan; ambushed driving black voters to register to vote because she was sitting beside a 19 year old African American in her car; a “Negro man” named Leroy Moton who survived the ambush by playing dead. He later sent three of the killers to prison.

Where are her statues? Why have we heard about so many other martyrs to the cause, but not Viola? In the 1960s, there were no women’s studies, and a housewife who left her husband and children on such a dangerous quest was deemed suspect. In fact, Herbert Hoover tried to discredit her reputation by suggesting there was some “necking” going on in that car!

The fate of women authors is worse, at least film and music have left us some evidence. But publishers would discontinue certain works in the pre-internet age, and so second-hand bookstores are your last best hope of survival. For instance, before John Grisham, there was Mary Elizabeth Braddon! Nope, I never heard of her either, but she was trending in Victorian times. Obscure pioneers in literature can now be found in “The Book of Forgotten Authors,” by Christopher Fowler:

Fowler devotes an entire chapter to the women who introduced readers to psychological suspense long before it conquered the bestseller lists. These “forgotten queens of suspense”, he writes, were “ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

One of Aunt Kiki and the Rocker’s friends will soon be teaching a course on song writing. She is a musician and a feminist and I would love to take her course at UCLA. One of the songs her students will investigate is Shania Twain’s, “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” Now Shania has her very own room in the Country Music Hall of Fame here in Nashville, and since Bob and I gave the Love Bug a small CD player for her room, along with Shania’s latest album, I’d love to hear her take on the evolution of country music to include more of the female voice, including women of color who were rarely recognized.

Because the #MeToo movement has started something that all my marches on Washington, all my work for Planned Parenthood, could never have imagined. Women’s stories are valued, but if we are not sitting up in the board rooms and back rooms of power, if we are not equally represented in the legislature, our work can still be marginalized, forgotten in the ebb and flow of history.

Her tee shirt says, “I will write my own story.”

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