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Civil Rights History Comes To Ann Arbor

On March 25, 1965, civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, 39, of Detroit was driving back to Mongomery, Ala., after a voting rights march in Selma with a black man, Leroy Moten, 19, one of the Selma demonstrators. A car carrying four Ku Klux Klan members began a high-speed chase down Alabama Highway 80. When they caught up with Liuzzo, the men opened fire, killing Liuzzo. Her passenger was uninjured.

In 1983, five of Liuzzo’s children filed suit against the U.S. government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for negligence, cover-up and violation of the their mother’s civil rights. The $2 million lawsuit was brought before a federal court because one of the four men arrested in the murder was an FBI informant. The non-jury trial was heard by U.S. District Judge Charles W. Joiner in Ann Arbor.

The four Klansmen were arrested hours after the incident and charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of the victim, but one of them, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. was later dropped from a state grand jury’s murder indictment because he was an undercover FBI informant. An 1975 investigation by the Senate Select Committee to Study Government relations began an investigation. Rowe testified that he has participated in acts of violence that were known and approved by the FBI. Rowe was indicted in the Liuzzo murder in 1978 by an Alabama grand jury but had not been tried because of legal complications.

The trial in Ann Arbor opened on March 21. The five Liuzzo chidren –Anthony, Thomas, Penny, Mary and Sally – allege that Rowe killed their mother or failed to prevent the slaying as an agent of a law enforcement agency. The other three men in the pursuit car were tried for murder in Alabama but acquitted.