Civil rights activist and Wayne State University student Viola Liuzzo will be posthumously awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree at 1:30 p.m. Friday, April 10, 2015, in the Wayne State Law School's Spencer Partrich Auditorium. Honoring Liuzzo's contributions to society, it will be the first honorary degree awarded posthumously in the university's history.
The honor comes 50 years after Liuzzo, a mother of five, was killed in Selma, Alabama, after answering the call from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for volunteers to assist with voting rights demonstrations. At the time of her death, Liuzzo was studying nursing at Wayne State.
Liuzzo's family will travel from around the country to attend the ceremony and accept the award on her behalf. Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson and the Wayne State Board of Governors extended the invitation to the family in recognition of the tremendous impact Liuzzo's actions had on moving the struggle for civil rights forward.
Civil rights activist Sheyann Webb, known as the "Smallest Freedom Fighter," will also attend the ceremony. Webb was nine-years-old when she took part in the first attempted Selma to Montgomery march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, known as Bloody Sunday.
The honorary degree ceremony will be followed by the dedication of a tree in the Law School courtyard as a permanent and living remembrance of Liuzzo's contributions and sacrifice.
As a child, Liuzzo witnessed firsthand the injustice and discrimination African Americans faced in the South. As an adult, she joined the fight for equality because, as she told her husband before leaving for Selma, "It's everybody's fight."
Liuzzo would have turned 90 on April 11.
Other Wayne State events celebrating Liuzzo include a talk by Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, about Liuzzo at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 13, in the Partrich Auditorium as part of the annual Dean Robb Public Interest Lecture. The lecture, named for longtime activist, civil rights attorney and Wayne Law alumnus Dean A. Robb (Class of 1949), is intended to inspire law students, attorneys, public interest groups and citizens to become more active in public service and public interest law. Dees' talk is titled, "With Justice for All in a Changing America."
Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 28,000 students.