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Heroine\'s Honor: WSU black alumni group salutes Viola Liuzzo

November 22, 2005

Thanks to Wayne State University 's Organization of Black Alumni, Viola Liuzzo, the Detroit civil rights activist who was slain in the South in 1965, is now the WSU alumna she always wanted to be. It's a fitting honor for someone who showed how love, courage, compassion and commitment could overcome racial barriers. On the 40th anniversary of her brutal murder by Ku Klux Klansmen in Alabama , the College of Nursing Alumni Association made Liuzzo, the first female martyr of the civil rights movement, an honorary member. Liuzzo had worked as a medical lab assistant before enrolling at Wayne State in 1963. Then, moved by brutal stories and images from the civil rights struggle in the South, Liuzzo went to Selma , Ala. , to join the voting rights march. After the protest, Liuzzo was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan while taking marchers to the local airport. She was 39 -- the mother of five children. The Black Alumni group had urged the university to grant Liuzzo an honorary degree, but WSU had a longstanding policy against posthumously conferring such an honor. Since Liuzzo had wanted to be a nurse, the group asked the College of Nursing to honor her. "She played such a pivotal role in African-American history," said Tara Young of Wayne State University 's Organization of Black Alumni. "She was fighting for her best friend." Liuzzo exhibited the best qualities of a nurse, and of a human being. By recognizing her, the Wayne State University College of Nursing Alumni Association has honored a civil rights heroine who is too little remembered in her own hometown.