About halfway along the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery route of the Voting Rights March of 1965 a lady parked in the medium between the US 80 lanes flagged me down. She was out of gas. Two little girls were bopping up and down in the front seat so her walking or hitching to the next gas station was problematic. I told her it’s just not your day and pedaled away.
Hey, not really. I told her I’d ride to the next filling station and ask someone there to take gas to her. I got Gwen’s phone number but refused her money for gas. A lot of folks have helped me on my journey, so I was happy to reciprocate.
Two miles down the road I spied a man mowing the lawn at the Wright Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church. His name was Houston and he looked about as enthusiastic as me to help, but good deeds are done because they are good, not for fun. He said he’d drive down there and give the lady some gas. As I called Gwen to tell her help was on its way, I told Houston how things had changed. I was following the Voting Rights March trail and here it was 57 years to the month later and I stopped to help a black lady without gas on that very route.
Turns out Houston was in the march.
“I was thirteen. I remember watching them and then I joined them for the final miles to Montgomery,” he said.
Then he pointed to a shrine a short walk from the chapel. “That’s a memorial to Viola Liuzzo,” he said, “she was killed near here,” he added pointing across US 80.
Viola Gregg Liuzzo was a 39-year-old mother of five from Detroit. When she saw Alabama State Police beating marchers on March 7 the day they first attempted to walk from Selma on what is now known as Bloody Sunday, she decided to help the marchers. Mrs. Liuzzo drove alone to Alabama to support them.
She ferried supporters between Selma and Montgomery on the four-day walk and on March 25 after it finished in Montgomery, she was driving back to Selma and was shot twice by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
During a nationally televised speech the next day, March 26, President Lyndon Johnson said: “Mrs. Liuzzo went to Alabama to serve the struggle for justice. She was murdered by the enemies of justice, who for decades have used the rope and the gun and the tar and feathers to terrorize their neighbors.”
Maybe the lesson is this: if you meet a lady out of gas, help her, you might learn something.