DETROIT | A 23-year-old sculptor is shaping the memory of a Detroit civil rights activist who was slain in Alabama during a 1965 voting rights march.
Austen Brantley is preparing to unveil a statue of Viola Liuzzo this July, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Brantley was commissioned by a nonprofit to memorialize the white activist for a northwest Detroit park that was renovated and dedicated in Liuzzo’s name last year.
Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother of five, drove from Detroit to Alabama to join 25,000 others in support of a march led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She was driving fellow activists between Montgomery and Selma when she was fatally shot by Ku Klux Klan members in another car.
Liuzzo is known as the only white woman to have been killed in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Brantley, a black self-taught artist who was born in Detroit, only learned of Liuzzo’s story when he started researching to create a proposal for the statue project. He said he found Liuzzo’s moral compass captivating, weighing leaving her children against knowing the brutality marchers were suffering in the south.
“I can never create something as beautiful as Viola,” he said. “I can only try to make something that tells a story about her.”
Liuzzo’s family said Brantley, who tackles race and identity issues in his artwork, understood the activist’s complex legacy.
Liuzzo’s daughter, Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe, said she appreciates that Brantley recognizes the parallels between Liuzzo and Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old civil rights activist who was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Liuzzo’s grandson, Josh Liuzzo, said he’s excited that youth will be able to form a bond with his grandmother through Brantley’s statue.
“The story keeps getting further and further in the past, but yet it keeps becoming more relevant to today. Isn’t that so interesting?” Liuzzo said. “The more that young people can understand my grandmother’s story, the more inspired the next generation can become by someone who crossed all barriers of race.”