At age 35 Liuzzo, a high school dropout, trained for a career as a medical laboratory assistant at the Carnegie Institute of Detroit, 1961-62. In 1963, to further enhance her education, she enrolled in classes at Wayne State University.
Liuzzo was also active in local efforts on behalf of reform in education and economic justice. Twice she was arrested, pleaded guilty, and insisted on a trial to publicize the causes for which she was an advocate. Evans said of her friend, “Viola Liuzzo lived a life that combined the care of her family and her home with a concern for the world around her. This involvement with her times was not always understood by her friends; nor was it appreciated by those around her.” In 1964 Liuzzo began attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, two blocks from the Wayne State campus, and, through Evans, became active in the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). That same year Evans and Liuzzo drove to New York City to attend a United Nations Seminar on civil rights sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
Liuzzo’s spiritual journey included putting hands to work. Unchurched as a child, she had converted to Roman Catholicism when she married Jim. Drawn to Roman Catholic mysticism for a time, she was later interested in Protestant evangelicalism. She sought personal relationship with a God active in the events of human history and herself wanted to make a difference in the world. At First Unitarian Universalist Liuzzo found a faith matching both her ideas and her longing to be of service. She became a full member on March 29, 1964. Many members of the church had been Freedom Riders. Daughter Penny attended the young adult group’s discussions.
We continue our History of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit (now the Cass Corridor Commons) with this entry on Viola Liuzzo.
Viola Liuzzo is most well known for being murdered by the KKK while transporting SNCC members from one area of the Selma march to another—but I think that THIS part of her life is what really counts. She came from a community that believed in justice, love, and working to right injustice. As we’ll show in future updates, it was a part of the UU church culture to question and challenge the status quo (in a weekly church letter, the UU minster asked about segregation, “Is it too much to expect that a religion of the Unities and the Universaliities shall have a great deal to do with shaping our attitudes and our reactions in these all important matters?”).
But for now, just know, this is the history that the UU church has used to birth the Cass Corridor Commons into existence. We would not be where we are without it. In honor of Viola Liuzzo and all the community that surrounded her, supported her and loved her, we carry on.