Belfast Telegraph

Hoover's dirty tricks against Viola still echo today

By Jim Dee

As the multitudes descend on America's capital this week to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's historic "I Have A Dream" speech, no doubt many of countless foot soldiers who helped wage the battle for civil rights will be there.

But among the absent will be Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman slain during the civil rights era – a woman whose murder helped shine a light on some of the nefarious activities that one of America's most revered law enforcement officials engaged in at the time.

On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr had led a successful march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.

Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother-of-five, was there because she'd driven south from her Detroit home to join the civil rights struggle, after having seen TV footage of the infamous "Bloody Sunday" Selma to Montgomery march being brutally attacked by police on March 6.

After the rally, as Liuzzo was ferrying marchers home, a car full of Ku Klux Klan men pulled alongside her vehicle and shot her in the head, killing her instantly.

Her murder sparked national and international outrage, so much so in fact that, when the alleged killers were apprehended, president Lyndon Johnson went on national TV to inform the nation of their arrest.

Although considered a martyr to civil rights advocates, Luizzo quickly became a hate figure to many racists. Her young children were harassed and the family's Detroit home had a cross burned on the front lawn.

Then nasty reports, based on rumour and innuendo, began to circulate, eventually making their way into the media. Viola, it was alleged, was addicted to drugs and had really gone south to have sex with black men.

The fact that she'd spontaneously left her husband and children behind to join the March 25 march was also seized upon as proof of bad parenting.

When the four men arrested for her murder were charged in April 1965, it was revealed that one, 34-year-old Gary Rowe, had been an FBI informant. He served as a witness when the trial opened in May, and later went into a witness protection program.

In 1977, after the Liuzzo family used a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain FBI files pertaining to Viola's death, it was revealed that famed FBI director J Edgar Hoover had personally ordered the character assassination smear campaign on Viola.

The family believed that Hoover issued such orders to divert attention away from the Gary Rowe's, and the FBI's, failure to prevent her murder.

Viola Liuzio's story is one from a bygone and often painful chapter in US history.

But, with recent revelations about the National Security Agency's blanket surveillance, it's not a stretch to think that Hoover-style dirty tricks are alive and well in America today.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph