Movie brings sisters to Selma

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 18, 2004

It was a bittersweet homecoming of sorts for Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe and her sister Penny Liuzzo Herrington last week here in Selma.

The siblings are daughters of Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, the only white women to be killed during the civil rights movement.

They were in Alabama for the premiere of a documentary about the life of their mother entitled “Home of the Brave”.

Email newsletter signup

Although the women are not from Alabama, they are very connected to Selma and Montgomery because of their mother’s tragic death.

“It’s almost like coming back to something that is a part me,” said Lilleboe. “I am glad to be here and claim it.”

Viola Liuzzo was the married mother of five children, three girls and two boys, when she came to Selma in 1965.

According to her children, she was so moved when she saw the accounts of “Bloody Sunday” on television that she decided to come to Alabama and help in anyway that she could.

“That is the way she was,” said Lillieboe, who was 17 at the time of her mother’s death.

“We would have been surprised if she didn’t come.”

The women spent the day touring the city with Joanne Bland, director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute.

Ms. Bland was a child during the voting rights movement and was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during “Bloody Sunday”.

When Viola Liuzzo came to Selma she stayed in an apartment in George Washington Carver Homes next door to Bland who shared her memories with the sisters.

“She was an anomaly to us.” said Bland as she showed the women the apartment their mother stayed in while in Selma.

“The kids in GWC would follow her around because we were amazed to see this white women in the projects with us, so we kept trying to do things to see if she would leave, but she never left.”

This was the second trip to Selma for Lilleboe, but her sister was visiting for the first time.

“This has been very emotional for me,” said Herrington. “My mom spent her last days here that I didn’t get to spend with her and now I get to come here and be where she was and touch her again. I can feel her spirit here, its been very cathartic.”

The documentary, which premiered on Friday night at the Capri theatre in Montgomery, gives viewers little known background about Viola Liuzzo.

Her daughters said one of the reasons they were interested in participating in the film was to help clear up the rumors and innuendos that surfaced about their mother after her murder.

Not long after the shooting that killed Mrs. Liuzzo as she carried black, male, passengers along highway 80 during the Selma to Montgomery march, J. Edgar Hoover is said to have “leaked” an FBI file that indicated that Liuzzo was a Communist who only came to Alabama to have relations with Black men.

The Liuzzo children have been trying to undo the damage that was done to their mother’s reputation as well as their family for almost 40 years.

“Our mom was taken from us and replaced with a nightmare,” said Lilleboe. “In the process of making this film our family is becoming whole again.

She left us a legacy and we are reclaiming that legacy.”