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Wayne State to honor slain civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo with honorary degree

via Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Wayne State University plans to issue its first-ever posthumous honorary degree to slain Detroit civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo.

Liuzzo was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members near Selma, Alabama in 1965. The 39-year-old mother of five was a Wayne State nursing student when she died.

“I think that Mrs. Liuzzo could not be a better spokesperson or symbol for Wayne State,” says Kim Trent, who sits on Wayne State’s Board of Governors. “She was a non-traditional student, someone who was really trying to use her life to change America.”

Trent has led the push for Wayne State to honor Liuzzo. She unsuccessfully urged the Board of Governors to bestow an honorary degree on Liuzzo 10 years ago.

Trent renewed her efforts recently after seeing the recent movie Selma. This time, Trent says the board approved Liuzzo’s posthumous degree unanimously.

Trent calls Liuzzo an “unsung hero” of the civil rights movement. The only white woman to die in that struggle, “I think people really underestimate the role that she played in the passage of the Voting Rights Act,” Trent says.

“If anybody deserves one [posthumous degree], it’s somebody who was a Wayne State student at the time of her death.”

Wayne State willissue the degree and hold other eventshonoring Liuzzo April 10-12, coinciding with what would have been her 90th birthday. 

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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