Category Archives: Black history

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Viola Fauver Gregg

Viola Fauver Gregg was born on  April 11, 1925 in California, PA. Her family was poor and often moved to find work.

 

 While living in Detroit, she witnessed the cruelty that its black citizens were subjected to and became sympathetic.  In 1964 she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Color People.
 By then she had married Anthony Liuzzo and they had three children.
 Watching the horrors of the March to Montgomery’s first attempt, Liuzzo decided to go to Selma and participate.
KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Activist murdered

She joined parts of the march to Montgomery and on March 25, 1965 listened to Dr Martin Luther King,  Jr’s famous “How Long Will It Take” speech.
 
 

It would be the last speech she heard.

Using her car, Viola Liuzzo and  Leroy Moton, a 19-year-old black man who had  also marched and assisted with the March to Montgomery,  were helping to  shuttle people from Montgomery back to Selma.

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

After dropping passengers in Selma, she and Moton headed back to Montgomery. On the way another car  pulled alongside and a passenger in that car shot directly at Liuzzo, hitting her twice in the head, and killing her instantly. Moton was uninjured.

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Arrests immediate

Within 24 hours President Lyndon Johnson appeared on national TV  to announce the arrest of Collie Wilkins (21), William Eaton (41) and Eugene Thomas (41) and  Gary Rowe (34). (text of announcement)

 

Johnson stated, “Mrs. Liuzzo went to Alabama to serve the struggle for justice. She was murdered by the enemies of justice, who for decades have used the rope and the gun and the tar and feathers to terrorize their neighbors.” 

March 27, 1965 : a group of about 200 protesters, black and white, led by the Rev. James Orange of the SCLC marched to the Dallas County courthouse in Selma. The Rev. James Bevel told them, “[Viola Liuzzo] gave her life that freedom might be saved throughout this land.” 

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Funeral services

March 29, 1965 : the NAACP sponsored a memorial service for Viola Liuzzo at the People’s Community Church in Detroit. Fifteen hundred people attended, among them, Rosa Parks.

March 30, 1965: funeral services were held for Viola Liuzzo. Her funeral was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church in Detroit, with many prominent members of both the civil rights movement and government there to pay their respects. Included in this group were Martin Luther King, Jr.; NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins; Congress on Racial Equality national leader James Farmer; Michigan lieutenant governor William G. Milliken; Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa; and United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther. At San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral, Martin Luther King said of Liuzzo, “If physical death is the price some must pay to save us and our white brothers from eternal death of the spirit, then no sacrifice could be more redemptive.

On April 1, a cross was burned in front of four Detroit homes, including the Liuzzo residence. (History Engine article)

April 3, 1965 : the mother of Collie Leory Wilkins told President Johnson that he has made it impossible for her son to have a fair trial.

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Indictments and trials

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo
From Left to Right; Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., Eugene Thomas, and William Orville Eaton.

April 6, 1965 : a grand jury indicted Collie Wilkins, William Eaton, Eugene Thomas, and Gary Rowe.

April 15, 1965 : all charges against Gary Rowe were dropped, and he was identified as a paid undercover FBI informant who would testify for the prosecution. [It will later be revealed that Rowe had participated in the beatings of Freedom Riders in Birmingham in 1961 and was suspected of involvement in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.]

May 3, 1965 : the Wilkins trial began. 

May 6, 1965 : during his final defense argumentsWilkens’s lawyer, Matt Murphy, made blatantly racist comments, including calling Liuzzo a “white nigger,” in order to sway the jury. The tactic was successful enough to result in a mistrial the following day (10-2 in favor of conviction)

May 10, 1965 : Collie Wilkins, William Eaton, and Eugene Thomas participated in a Ku Klux Klan parade. Collie Wikkins, free on bond after the mistrial, carried a Confederate flag.  After the parade, the Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, Robert Shelton, asked the three men to stand. They received a standing ovation.

August 20, 1965 :  Matt Murphy, the defendants’ lawyer in the Viola Liuzzo murder, died in an automobile accident after he fell asleep while driving and crashed into a gas tank truck. Segregationist and former mayor of Birmingham, Art Hanes, agree\ds to represent three accused killers.

October 19, 1965 : State Attorney General, Richmond M Flowers, interrupted the second Liuzzo trial and asked the Alabama Supreme Court to purge some jurists, a number of whom stated during jury selection that they believed white civil rights workers to be inferior to other whites. The request was denied. 

October 20, 1965 : Roy Reed in the NY Times reported that, ”an all-white jury dominated by self-proclaimed white supremacists was chosen…for the retrial of Collie Leroy Wilkins, Jr, a Ku Klux Klansman charged with the murder of Viola Liuzzo.” 

October 22, 1965 : the jury took less than two hours to acquit Collie Wilkins in Liuzzo’s slaying.

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Federal trial

November 30, 1965 : Collie Wilkins (already acquitted in State Court), Eugene Thomas, and William Eaton faced trial on Federal charges that grew out of the killing of a Viola Liuzzo. They were charged with conspiracy under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction civil rights statute. The charges did not specifically refer to Liuzzo’s murder.

December 3, 1965 : an all-white jury found Collie Wilkins, Eugene Thomas, and William Eaton guilty. The three were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

January 15, 1966 : the Birmingham News newspaper published an ad offering Viola Liuzzo’s bullet-ridden car for sale. Asking $3,500, the ad read, “Do you need a crowd-getter? I have a 1963 Oldsmobile two-door in which Mrs. Viola Liuzzo was killed. Bullet holes and everything intact. Ideal to bring in crowds.”

April 27, 1967 : the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the conspiracy convictions of  Thomas and Wilkins, Jr. William O Eaton, the third person, had died.

May 17, 1982 : the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that Alabama could prosecute Gary Rowe, the FBI informer, in the 1965 slaying of Viola Luizzo. The ruling affirmed an order by a lower court.

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo
Gary Rowe

October 30, 1982 : a newly released report said the FBI  covered up the violent activities of their informant, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., but his lawyer said the Government knew it was not getting ”a Sunday school teacher” when it asked Mr. Rowe to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. (NYT article)

Rowe, who was a Klan informant from 1959 to 1965, was charged with murder in the 1965 killing of Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights worker, but a federal appeals court barred him from being brought to trial because of an earlier agreement giving him immunity.

The 1979 report was released publicly for the first time because the Justice Department lost a Freedom of Information suit filed by Playboy magazine. In the report department investigators said agents protected Mr. Rowe because the informant ”was simply too valuable to abandon.’

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo


KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Family must pay

April 2, 1983 : final arguments in the $2 million negligence suit against the FBI were made in Federal court by lawyers for the children of Viola Liuzzo, whose murder they attributed to a paid F.B.I. informer, Gary Rowe.

Viola Liuzzo’s children  not only lost their suit against the Federal Government  but were ordered to pay court costs of $79,800, in addition to legal fees that amounted to more than $60,000. They appealed the ruling which was reduced to a smaller amount.

The Liuzzo family’s court costs alone were estimated at $60,000, according to Jeffrey Long, one of their lawyers. Last week, Judge Joiner dismissed the family’s $2 million lawsuit against the Federal Government. The family maintained Gary Rowe, an informer for the FBI, either shot at Mrs. Liuzzo or could have prevented the shooting.

February 7, 1997 : from the NYT, “Last week, a Confederate battle flag was spray-painted on a monument in Hayneville, Ala., to Viola Liuzzo.”

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo

Legacy

April 10, 2015: Wayne State University posthumously awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree to Viola Liuzzo.  Liuzzo’s family traveled from around the country to attend the ceremony and accept the award on her behalf. 

KKK Kills Activist Viola Liuzzo
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Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing


An American Boomer growing up during the mid-20th century learned many patriotic songs. The National Anthem. God Bless American. America the Beautiful.


Each song praised the United States’ goodness and godliness. Boomers were proud of their country, but like any country’s story, books often left out the discomforting  pieces.


Text certainly included slavery and that Lincoln ended it, but often,  that was that.  Curricula rarely mentioned the continued vicious mistreatment and terrorism that followed emancipation at the end of the Civil War.


In 1900, James Weldon Johnson, born in the 19th century, wrote a poem. Here is some of its history that I didn’t learn until the 21st century.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing
James Weldon and John Rosamond Jonnson
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” poem

February 12, 1900: as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida recited “Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by their school principal, James Weldon Johnson.  He wrote the words as an introduction to that day’s honored guest: Booker T. Washington. 


Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring.

Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies.

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land
Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” song



In 1905, James’s brother John Rosamond put music to the poem.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” anthem


In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “The Negro National Anthem” for its power in voicing the cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people. 

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

James W Johnson dies


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing


June 26, 1938: James Weldon Johnson died while vacationing in Wiscasset, Maine. The car his wife, Grace, was driving was hit by a train. She survived.


Johnson’s funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people. His ashes are interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” sculpture

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

 


In 1939 the New York World’s Fair commissioned Augusta Savage to create a sculpture. She made a 16-foot plaster sculpture called Lift Every Voice and Sing. The piece was was destroyed at the close of the Fair. (see Savage for her expanded story) 


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

John Rosamond Johnson dies

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing
photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

November 11, 1954: John Rosamond Johnson died.  A Black Past article stated that, “He was a renowned performer and made his acting debut in the first African American show on Broadway, John W. Isham’s Oriental America (1897). He eventually secured leading roles in Porgy and Bess (1935), Mamba’s Daughters (1939), and Cabin in the Sky (1940).


“One of Johnson’s major accomplishments was the 1918 founding of his school in Harlem called the New York Music School Settlement for Colored People. Atlanta University awarded him an honorary master’s degree in 1917 and he was made a subchief of the Iroquois in honor of his stage musical Red Moon (1908) and its respectful portrayal of Native Americans. He was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers for most of his career.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing


In 1969: Maya Angelou’s published her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In it, she relats the story of her 8th grade graduation when class and audience sang the “Lift Every Voice and Sing” anthem  after a white school official spoke in a derogatory manner about the educational aspirations of her class. 


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

Star Spangled Banner/Lift Every Voice



In 2008,  Rene Marie performed the national anthem at a civic event in Denver, Colorado, where she caused a controversy by substituting the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” into the melody.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

Barak Obama’s inauguration


January 20, 2009, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who was formerly president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, used a near-verbatim recitation of the song’s third stanza to begin his benediction at the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

 National Museum of African American History and Culture



September 24, 2016, this song was sung by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and chorus at the conclusion of the opening ceremonies of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, at which Obama delivered the keynote address.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing

White nationalist Richard Spencer

October 19, 2017, when white nationalist leader Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida, the university’s carillon played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to convey a message of unity.


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing
Winston-Salem State University Choir, Alumni Choir and Friends
First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, NC 3/26/17

  • Dr. Roland M. Carter, conductor
  • Maestra D’Walla Simmons-Burke, conductor
  • Dr. Myron Brown, accompanist 


Johnson Brothers Lift Every Voice Sing


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Bluesman Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Rattlesnake Blues by Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

It is a too often an embarrassing  occurrence with me that I “discover” something  important that has sat in front of me for decades.


A recent morning while listening to the radio, the DJ referred to a movie on Amazon called “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.”  I have Amazon. I watched the movie that day.


Astounding.


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Blurred origins


Trying to pin down who the originator of this or that musical genre  often leads to a lively discussion.  Who gets credit for American blues? And what were their influences?


Great music is filled with emotion and we humans–filled with emotion–have always had music. How it sounds is influenced by the place we live, the time we are a part of, the instruments around us, and other factors.


We humans also like to keep things simple and as a result we too often pigeon-hole a musician because their fame stemmed from just one aspect of their art.


Charlie (or Charley) Patton was much more than just a blues singer, or more specifically, a Delta Blues singer.

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Delta Blues


In the movie, John Troutman, American Music Historian, says, “…blues buffs, blues scholars, although they can’t really agree on anything,  if they were forced into a room when they had to identify…the most important singularly important blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, the whole package, the greatest one there ever was in the early 20th century…they’d probably say Charlie Patton.”


At his site, Elijah Wald explains, “Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and religious music, ragtime comedy like “Shake It and Break It,” ballads like “Frankie and Albert,” older slide guitar standards like “Bo Weavil” and “Spoonful,” and a couple of unclassifiable pieces that seem to be his reimaginings of Tin Pan Alley pop numbers, “Some of These Days” and “Running Wild.”


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Patton’s background


Charlie Patton was born in April 1890 or maybe 1891 or maybe 1895.  His parents were Bill and Annie Patton.


While certainly an African-American, it is likely that he had other ancestry, including American Indian. Howlin’ Wolf was a student of Patton’s. Wolf said, “Charlie Patton was an Indian. And he was the baddest motherfucker in the world.:


Most agree today, Patton not only had American Indian ancestry, but that Patton’s music reflects that cultural influence.

Keep in mind, that Native Americans sometimes chose to pass as African Americans because they thought that the dominant white American society treated Blacks better than Natives!


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Dockery Plantation

Bluesman Charlie Patton


In 1897, Patton’s family moved to the Dockery Plantation  near Ruleville, Mississippi.  Will Dockery had started the farm in 1895. Because of its location, there was a lack of local labor available and Dockery encouraged all to work and paid a bit better and more reliably.


As a result, a mixture of backgrounds worked his sawmill and fields. Patton was in the middle of this and his musical abilities were steeped in these backgrounds. In his Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads, the late Robert Palmer described Patton as a “jack-of all-trades bluesman”, who played “deep blues, white hillbilly songs, nineteenth-century ballads, and other varieties of black and white country dance music with equal facility.”


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Legacy

Bluesman Charlie Patton


Charlie Patton was only 43 when he died on April 28, 1934, but his influence on the Delta Blues which gave  birth to Chicago electric blues and so on and so forth until we white Baby Boomers thought the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Cream, John Mayall, and others were playing something original but were simply re-interpreting our own music which was the descendant of American Indian, African, and other musics.


Bluesman Charlie Patton
Bluesman Charlie Patton

John Fahey


Master guitarist and blues fan, John Fahey, wrote a great book about Patton simply, Charley Patton. Here is a link for the entire book.


Bluesman Charlie Patton

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