By 1965, Penny was becoming closer to her mom after some stormy adolescent years. "I just graduated from high school and we had just become friends," she says.
When Liuzzo decided to go to Selma, she did it in typically impulsive fashion. She was taking classes at Wayne State University when she called home. "I'm going," she cheerfully announced. "I'm on the way."
That's when Penny had her premonition. She tried to persuade her mother not to go, telling her that she would die. ''I'll pee on your grave," Liuzzo told her daughter, laughing. And off to Selma she drove.
There, Liuzzo was one of 2,000 marchers gathered in response to a plea from King. She plunged right in, joining the movement's transportation committee, ferrying civil rights marchers around Selma for six days. Some of those marchers were black men. Liuzzo had to be aware of the dangers of a white woman being seen in a car with a black man at the time, says David Truskoff, one of the marchers who met Liuzzo in Selma.
Truskoff, who would later write "The Second Civil War," says the Rev. James Reeb had just been murdered when Liuzzo arrived in Selma. Cars displaying swastikas drove by marchers constantly. White locals made obscene gestures at white women marchers walking next to black men.
The journalists who had assembled for the Selma march weren't much better, Truskoff says. The press trucks were "half-full of rednecks." Many of them had heard Gov. George Wallace publicly warn Alabamans that white women like Liuzzo who had come down from the North for the march would be going back home to give birth to black babies.
Truskoff says he warned the marchers that these journalists were trying to photograph marchers at night when they camped out in the open during the five-day, 50-mile march to Montgomery. "What some of these crackers really wanted to see were black men with white women in some of these sleeping bags."
The last time Truskoff saw Liuzzo was in a Selma church. She was standing before an applauding audience with a check in her hand. "She brought it up onto the stage and gave Hosea [Williams] a check from her husband's union," he says. "On her way back, there was a big cheer and applause. She was just beaming. She walked past me, nodding at me as if to say, 'We're going to win this thing.'"
On the last day of the march, Liuzzo joined the 3,200 people walking into Montgomery for a rousing rally capped by a speech by King. She then drove back to Selma with Moton and other marchers.
Liuzzo dropped off her passengers in Selma and returned with Moton to Montgomery to pick up more marchers. They were driving on U.S. 80 when a car filled with four white men pulled alongside Liuzzo's car. One of the men shot Liuzzo in the head, killing her instantly, according to police reports.
President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on television the next day to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klan members: Eugene Thomas, 43; William Eaton, 41; Collie Leroy Wilkins Jr., 21; and Thomas Rowe Jr., 34. Rowe, it was later disclosed, was an FBI informant.
The condemnation of Reeb's murder in Selma had been instantaneous and widespread. That was far from the case for Liuzzo. Racism, sexism and the FBI combined to provoke a backlash against her.
First, an all-white, all-male jury acquitted all four men of Liuzzo's murder. Then they were tried again under different charges. Their trial was moved to a different jurisdiction and three were sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating Liuzzo's civil rights. The fourth, Rowe, was not convicted after being granted immunity.
After the verdict, Stanton says, bumper stickers started appearing on cars and trucks in Lowndes County, where Liuzzo was murdered, saying, "Open Season."
The FBI then went after Liuzzo's reputation. Stanton says they tried to cover up for the fact that their informant in the car did nothing to prevent Liuzzo's murder. Hoover began telling President Johnson that Liuzzo was having sex with black men, was a drug addict, and had a husband who was involved in organized crime.
The FBI then leaked this misinformation to the press, which soon began writing stories questioning Liuzzo's mental health (she had once suffered a nervous breakdown) and her morality. Anthony Liuzzo found himself defending his wife's character to newspaper reporters. The Liuzzo family would only discover what the FBI had done years later, after obtaining documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Penny says her father was eaten away by the criticism of his wife. "It took the soul right out of him," she says. "He never was the same. He started drinking a lot."
Stanton says Anthony Liuzzo Sr. was viewed as a failure. "He was seen as a macho Teamster who couldn't keep his woman in line." He died in 1978, still tormented about the gossip surrounding Viola. For a decade he had been trying to persuade the FBI to return her wedding ring to him. They finally did so -- two years after he died.
The effect on the other family members also was devastating. Penny had two bad marriages; so did Sally. Penny says both married too quickly as a way of taking their minds off the loss of their mother. Sally was hit particularly hard by the death of her mother and, later, her father.
"Sally has just got a grip on her life and she's in her 40s," Penny says. "She was an orphan at 20."
Her two brothers, Anthony Jr. and Tommy, who were 13 and 10 at the time, later dropped out of high school. "They were devastated and they retreated from society," she says.
Anthony Liuzzo Jr., the eldest son, has periodically popped into public view since his mother's murder. In 1975, he filed a $2 million lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of himself and his siblings for the agency's complicity in his mother's death.
"My brother always said there was a government conspiracy, but I didn't believe him," she says. During the trial, the FBI admitted that it had shredded 10,000 pages of documents connected to Liuzzo's murder. Still, the FBI won. In 1983 a federal judge threw out the lawsuit and ordered the family to pay the government $80,000 in court costs. The judge later changed that demand after the television show "20/20" did a report on the trial and people became outraged at the judge's order.
Penny says she was shocked to learn about the FBI's role in her mother's death.
"At first, I thought they were the heroes," she says quietly. "I was disappointed. I didn't want it to be that way. ... I wanted America to be like our forefathers wanted it to be, and it's not." The court's decision changed the lives of her brothers as well, she says. "It drove my brothers nuts," she says. "They couldn't take it anymore."