Friday, January 23, 2015

Who Was Viola Liuzzo?


by Mary Stanton

The last ten minutes of the blockbuster Selma introduces a white woman killed on the last day of the 1965 Voting Rights March who became the only woman honored at Montgomery’s Civil Rights Memorial. Who was she?
       
In 1965 I was nineteen years old and living with my parents in Queens, New York. On March 26 we watched Walter Cronkite’s report about Viola Liuzzo, a thirty-nine-year-old Detroit housewife and mother of five who’d been murdered. Although President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation and directed the FBI to work around the clock to find her murderers, it took only days to transform this woman from victim to an outside agitator and symbol of recklessness. Why?
       
Liuzzo was shot by four Klansman, one who worked for the FBI. To cover the fact that the bureau had permitted a known violent racist to work undercover during a massive interracial march, J. Edgar Hoover fed a malicious public relations campaign that portrayed her as an unstable and immoral woman. Liuzzo became the perfect symbol of everything the Klan and much of the white South in 1965 detested. Liuzzo had traveled beyond the boundary of marriage and motherhood to volunteer for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference effort in Selma. With her Michigan plates and a young male black SCLC volunteer riding in the front seat beside her, she was the image of a race traitor, and thus had forfeited her right to the protection of “sacred white womanhood.” The message that the Klansmen sent to local activists by killing her and her black fellow volunteer was that things were not going to change. The message to outsiders was that a trip South to agitate could prove fatal.
         
Liuzzo’s violent death magnified the nation’s nervous concerns about social justice, civil rights, antiwar activism, and feminism. Advocating racial justice was a radical activity in 1965. A majority of white Americans believed that even if it was justified, the civil rights movement was moving too fast. Liuzzo’s activism could not be written off as youthful enthusiasm. She was a middle-aged wife and mother, and her actions threatened the stability of the family. White American women could not afford to sympathize with her, as such would have invited too many questions about their own lives.
         
Ironically, while Liuzzo was targeted for execution because she provided such a powerful symbol for opponents of the civil rights movement, she was of little symbolic value for the movement itself. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, the three young men who were murdered in Mississippi the summer before, were positive symbols. Goodman was a white college activist, Schwerner a white social worker, and Chaney a black community worker. Their families were proud of their activism; Liuzzo’s husband, by contrast, was conflicted about the causes his wife chose to support.
         
In March 1965, as I watched the CBS Evening News, it was Liuzzo’s personal courage that struck me. Here was someone who would not be trapped, smothered, or suffocated. I would like to have known somebody like that--a woman who wasn’t afraid.
         
Years passed before I came to fully appreciate Liuzzo’s dedication to social justice. When I was a young woman, she gave me hope that perhaps my life need not be constricted by the boundaries of appropriateness, acceptability, and inoffensiveness. I didn’t believe that was possible in those days. I could say with Betty Friedan, who published The Feminine Mystique that year, that “I never knew a woman, when I was growing up, who used her mind, played her own part in the world, and also loved, and had children." What resonated for me was Liuzzo’s determination to make her life count. I tried not to think too much about what that determination had cost her.
         
In the 1990s, in the course of researching Viola Liuzzo’s life for the biography From Selma To Sorrow, I discovered that she possessed deep sensibilities, a short temper, abiding warmth, painful restlessness, and a strong moral compass. Her untimely death provided the impetus for passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and a good bit of inspiration for a young woman coming of age in Queens.

Mary Stanton is the author of From Selma To Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo (University of Georgia Press, 1998)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Short Takes

The Los Angeles Review recommends Sarah Gorham's STUDY IN PERFECT.
The essay ["The Changeling"] concludes as many of Gorham's do: not with a solution, but with lingering moral questions—all of which expand outward, demanding that readers confront their own personal truths, even when the truths themselves are imperfect.
Kirkus Reviews gives the forthcoming LENS OF WAR a starred review, calling it "[a] brilliant starting point for truly understanding the Civil War."

Be sure to check out WHAT RIDICULOUS THINGS WE COULD ASK OF EACH OTHER author Jeffrey Schultz's poem "Habeas Corpus" for the American Academy of Poets "Poem-a-Day."
 
Did you miss the Georgia Focus feature of COURTHOUSES OF GEORGIA on last week's Georgia News Network? Don't worry, we have you covered! Listen to it here.

In a review for the Athens Banner-Herald, Dink NeSmith praises the "heirloom-quality" COURTHOUSES OF GEORGIA.
Dr. George Justice of the University of North Georgia did a masterful job telling the story of each courthouse. And as I've told Greg Newington, he found the absolute best way—159 times—to showcase the individual structures. The lighting, the angles, the shadows, natural surroundings and overall composition demonstrate his artistic genius.
Congratulations to Dr. Louis W. Sullivan! His book, BREAKING GROUND, is one of the nominees for a NAACP Image Award for Literary Work-Biography or Autobiography. The winners will be announced on February 6.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Short Takes

The Wall Street Journal selects James Marten's AMERICA'S CORPORAL as an "outstanding stud[y] of life after battle" in its roundup of this year's gift books on the Civil War. "Mr. Marten focuses on James Tanner, a double amputee who vaulted into prominence when he was drafted on the spot to take the testimony of witnesses to Lincoln's assassination and who eventually became a spokesman for disabled veterans."

Open Alphabet interviews Jeffrey Schultz about his book of poetry, WHAT RIDICULOUS THINGS WE COULD ASK OF EACH OTHER.
OA: The cover illustration is "Riot of the Madmen", by George Grosz. It depicts urban mayhem, shipwrecks, arson, looting, and various types of interpersonal violence, but it is drawn in very simple lines, not much more than stick figures. How did this come to be the cover of your book? How does it relate to the poems?
JS: I first saw this drawing at LACMA with my wife and good friend, the poet Joshua Robbins. There are a lot of things I love about it. I’ve spent a lot of hours looking at album covers and book covers over the years, and I really appreciate one you can continue looking at, continue noticing little details of. So that’s part of it, but what made it seem right to me for the book was exactly what you’re pointing to: we see all of these terrible things happening in the drawing, but because the drawing is so simple, so cartoonish, it gives the impression that none of it is really necessary at all, that none of it need be real. It’s that contrast, between the very real sorts of violence the drawing points to in the world and the form that says that everything that led to it was quite careless and could be easily wiped away if only we would put a little work and thought toward it that I really love. And I hope it resonates, then, first with the title of the book and then with the individual poems. I’ve tried, so much as I was able, to walk these poems up to those moments when we might start becoming able to ask the questions we would need to ask in order to begin to find some ways to start setting the world right, and the Grosz I hope sets the stage or mood or whatever for those attempts of mine.

I’ve got to say thank you here too to the wonderful folks at the University of Georgia Press for finding a way to get the rights to the Grosz and for then designing such a wonderful cover. I couldn’t be happier with it.
Check out the rest of the interview here.

Read Her Like an Open Book blog praises Monica McFawn for BRIGHT SHARDS OF SOMEPLACE ELSE, saying the work is "intriguing and thought-provoking. . . . This is a smart, ambitious collection of stories by a writer whose initial acclaim is certain to grow."

Kate Sweeney's AMERICAN AFTERLIFE made the best of 2014 list for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (subscription required)

Congratulations to Sarah Gorham! Her book, STUDY IN PERFECT, was chosen as one of Slate's 27 Overlooked Books of 2014. "Easily one of the best books I read this year was Sarah Gorham’s gorgeous, one-of-a-kind Study in Perfect. . . . Gorham’s writing is crystal-clear and drawn from a more poetic well than most."

Congratulations to John Griswold! His book, PIRATES YOU DON'T KNOW, AND OTHER ADVENTURES IN THE EXAMINED LIFE, was named as one of the best nonfiction books of 2014 by Entropy magazine.

Congratulations to Monica McFawn! Her book, BRIGHT SHARDS OF SOMEPLACE ELSE, has won a Michigan Notable Book Award. The award is given to 20 books celebrating Michigan people, places, and events. Her book was also named as one of NPR's Great Reads for 2014.

Congratulations to Glenn T. Eskew, Kari Frederickson, Karen L. Kilcup, and Jeffrey B. Leak! Their books (JOHNNY MERCER, COLD WAR DIXIE, FALLEN FORESTS, and VISIBLE MAN) were chosen as Outstanding Academic Titles by Choice magazine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Atlanta Baseball’s Very First Hall of Famers

by Tim Darnell

The city’s tradition of baseball
excellence goes back long before the Braves
John Smoltz’s recent first-ballot acceptance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is only the latest example of Atlanta baseball’s historic, long-reaching connection with Cooperstown, NY.

Long before names such as Aaron, Cox, Glavine and Maddux were elected to the Hall of Fame, two players who got their start with the game’s most successful minor league team in history had long been enshrined in Cooperstown.

The city’s very first baseball Hall of Famer was Luke Appling, who attended Fulton High School and Oglethorpe College in Atlanta.

In 1930, Appling left Oglethorpe to make his pro ball debut with the Atlanta Crackers. He was a solid hitter, and before the season was over, the Crackers sold Appling’s contract to the Chicago White Sox for $20,000.

The man considered by many to be the greatest shortstop of all time would play his entire career with the White Sox.

Appling’s best season was 1936, when he batted .388, knocked in 124 runs (his only 100-RBI season), scored 111 times, recorded 204 hits, and had a team-record 27-game hitting streak.

He interrupted his career to serve in World War II in 1944 and 1945. He played for Chicago until 1950, then was a minor league manager and major league coach for many years. He served one stint as an interim major league manager in 1967.

His batting average was good for the first AL batting title won by a shortstop. It was the highest batting average recorded by a shortstop in the 20th century.

When he retired, Appling was the all-time leader for most games played and for double plays by a major league shortstop, and the all-time leader for putouts and assists by an American League shortstop.

Appling was famous among his teammates for complaining about minor ailments such as a sore back, a weak shoulder, shin splints, or a sprained finger. While much of this complaining was probably for show, it earned him the nicknames "Old Aches and Pains" and "Libby", the latter after blues singer Libby Holman.

Appling later served as a coach and scout for the Atlanta Braves. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

Atlanta’s second Baseball of Famer was Eddie Mathews, one of the greatest third basemen in history.

Mathews was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949. He played 63 games that year for the Class D High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms, where he hit 17 home runs and earned a .363 batting average.

In 1950, Mathews moved up to the Double-A Atlanta Crackers, where he hit 32 home runs. He was brought up to the major leagues in 1952, where he hit hit 25 home runs—including three in one game—for the Boston Braves.

In 1953 the Braves moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he batted .302, hit 47 home runs, and drove in 135 runs. For nine straight seasons he hit at least 30 home runs, including leading the National League twice.

After his playing career, Mathews managed the Atlanta Braves and coached in the Oakland Athletics organization. He was manager of the Braves when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark of 714. Mathews was made a Hall of Famer in 1978.

Atlanta’s tradition of baseball excellence began in the late 19th century, and continued with the Atlanta Crackers. From 1901 to 1965, the Crackers won more pennants and league championships than any other team in professional, organized baseball except the New York Yankees.

Indeed, the Crackers were so synonymous with success that they were known as the “Yankees of the Minors.”

Today, Braves fans are looking forward to John Smoltz’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July—and they anticipate whether Chipper Jones will be the next Brave to be enshrined into the annals of baseball history. But long ago, the path from Atlanta to Cooperstown was paved by two men who played for the greatest minor league baseball team in history.

Tim Darnell is an award-winning journalist who has written for numerous Atlanta sports and political publications. He is also the author of 101 Atlanta Sports Legends and The Georgia Tech Trivia Book. The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball is available from the University of Georgia Press in paperback.