I didn’t share a name with my children during the painful conversation about Selma, because this name deals with a different aspect of hatred that I’m even less equipped to discuss. Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb were both men. Viola Liuzzo was a woman, and her story is a brutal example of how misogyny permeates the world she lived in and the one I live in. When Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered, it didn’t draw national attention, but it did spur the African-American community in Selma. The first protest march occurred there less than two weeks after his death. Because James Reeb was a white minister, his murder resulted in a presidential call to his widow and people miles from Alabama became aware of what has happening in states governed by white supremacists. They both died as martyrs. Viola Liuzzo was gunned down just a couple of weeks after Mr. Reeb was killed. Though her name is now visible for all to see on the Civil Rights Memorial, she was labeled a drug addict, a whore, and a bad mother. When this woman was killed by the KKK, instead of outrage, many white people blamed her for her own murder. Unlike Reeb’s four children who grew up with their father being praised, Liuzzo’s five children lived with their mother’s memory being repeatedly tarnished. Maybe one day, I’ll write more about Viola, about J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, and the Ku Klux Klan. Right now, it still stings in ways that Jackson’s and Reeb’s deaths don’t. I know that if something bad were to happen to me, because I’m a woman, people will say my skirt was too short, I shouldn’t have been walking alone, why was I out that late, she didn’t know how to defend herself, if she just stayed home where she belonged, this wouldn’t have happened- any number of things to place fault with the victim instead of where it should truly be. Yes, it is better than it was on March 25, 1965 when Viola Liuzzo died at the same age that I am now, but it’s also not better at all. At the gas station yesterday, I filled my tank near three other women, also by their cars, with their keys, vigilantly watching our surroundings. Statistically, at least one of us has experienced violence. We’re more likely to die by gun violence here in the United States than in any other developed country. Today, she might not be vilified for her involvement with the NAACP, but Viola Liuzzo would still likely be killed by men with guns. I can talk to my boys about how people were despicable towards women then, but how do I talk to them about it now? Viola Liuzzo’s efforts to promote equal rights were remarkable, but her death was not, not then and not now. There will be other women found dead and barefoot in their cars.
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