Monument honoring slain civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo and friend is unveiled in Detroit park

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From left, relatives of Sarah Evans and Detroit Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison view 7-foot-tall granite monument commemorating Evans and her friend, Viola Liuzzo on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 at Viola Liuzzo Park in northwest Detroit. Liuzzo was a white mother who was slain in Alabama while shuttling demonstrators after the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)

DETROIT – A monument was unveiled Thursday in Detroit to commemorate a white mother who was slain in Alabama while shuttling demonstrators after the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, along with the Black friend who helped raise her children following her death.

A ceremony was held at Viola Liuzzo Park on the city's northwest side for Liuzzo and Sarah Evans.

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“SISTERS IN LIFE — SISTERS IN STRUGGLE” is written across the top of the 7-foot laser-etched granite monument that features photo images of Liuzzo and Evans.

Liuzzo was a 39-year-old nursing student at Wayne State University in Detroit when she drove alone to Alabama to help the civil rights movement. She was struck in the head March 25, 1965, by shots fired from a passing car. Her Black passenger, 19-year-old Leroy Moton, was wounded.

Three Ku Klux Klan members were convicted in Liuzzo’s death.

Liuzzo's murder followed “Bloody Sunday,” a civil rights march in which protesters were beaten, trampled and tear-gassed by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. On March 7, 1965, marchers were walking from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, to demand an end to discriminatory practices that robbed Black people of their right to vote.

Images of the violence during the first march shocked the U.S. and turned up the pressure to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which helped open voter rolls to millions of Black people in the South.

Before leaving Detroit for Alabama, Liuzzo told her husband it “was everybody's fight” and asked Evans “to help care for her five young children during her brief absence,” according to script on the monument.

Tyrone Green Sr., Evans' grandson, told a small crowd at Thursday's unveiling that the monument is “unbelievable.”

“When God put two angels together, can't nothing but something good come out of that,” he said of Evans and Liuzzo. “They knew what love was.”

Evans died in 2005.

In an apparent reference to efforts in Florida and some other Southern states to restrict how race can be taught in schools and reduce Black voting power, the Rev. Wendell Anthony said that unveiling such a monument “would not be acceptable in certain parts of the United States of America today,” and that Liuzzo's life “would be banned.”

“I'm glad to be in Michigan and Detroit, and if we're not careful, that same mess will slide here,” said Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP branch. “That's why what Viola Liuzzo was fighting for — the right to vote — is so essential.”

“Everybody doesn't get a monument,” he added. “Your life, your service determines the monument that you will receive.”

City officials worked with the Viola Liuzzo Park Association, which raised $22,000 to create the monument. The small park was created in the 1970s to honor Liuzzo.

The park also features a statue of Liuzzo walking barefoot — with shoes in one hand — and a Ku Klux Klan hood on the ground behind her. The statue was dedicated in 2019.

In 2015, Wayne State honored Liuzzo with an honorary doctor of laws degree.