Civil Rights Martyr Viola Liuzzo
One of the most notable women in Teamster history is Viola Liuzzo. Liuzzo was the wife of a Teamster business agent and not afraid to stand up for what she believed in. This determination to fight injustice would ultimately cost Liuzzo her life but her sacrifice helped strengthen the civil rights movement during the 1960s.
CNN recently did a story on her life and untimely end that can be found here. The story, called “The voting rights martyr who divided America,” is an interesting read for Teamsters interested in the union’s role in the civil rights and women’s’ rights movements.
Liuzzo’s death shocked the nation. On March 30, Liuzzo’s funeral was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Detroit. Many important political, labor and civil rights leaders attended Liuzzo’s funeral, including Teamsters General President James R. Hoffa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Teamsters International Vice President Harold Gibbons; NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins; Michigan Lt. Gov. William G. Miliken; and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther.
Teamsters General President James R. Hoffa said that Liuzzo’s bravery in the face of such danger was what made her similar to other martyrs of the labor movement like those who died in the Ludlow Massacre, the Pullman Strike and the Homestead Massacre.
“She had faith in what she believed, and was one of those rare individuals who acted instead of just giving lip service to a principle,” Hoffa said.
Many believe that it was Viola Liuzzo’s ultimate sacrifice that helped push the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.