Américo Paredes

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[A rather handsome photograph of Américo Paredes – with his guitar in his hand – in later life. Photo found on the University of Houston’s Houston Public Media Obituary https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/shows/2015/09/26/127130/writer-and-folklorist-amrico-paredes/ ]

Born in the fronteriza city of Brownsville, Texas in 1915, Américo Paredes was one of the foundational figures in the development of Chicano Studies. Working first as a newspaper delivery person, and later as a reporter for the Brownsville Herald during the Great Depression, Paredes served in the Second World War in the Pacific and only returned to the United States in 1950. Upon his return, he enrolled at the  University of Texas and became the first Mexican-American to obtain a PhD from the university.

His first book, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958) is considered to be one of *the* foundational books in Chicano Studies and has proven to be a classic folkloric text in the historiography of the borderlands/frontera.  This book helped pave the way for his career, which spanned decades and always focused on what he referred to as the “Lower Border” region. His work concentrated on cultural creations like corridos (popular Mexican ballads), fronteriza humour, and folktales. He helped to inspire countless people after him, ranging from historians within the academy to working class people interested in reconnecting with their cultura.

Although it has been several years since Paredes passed away in 1999, his work continues to inspire both already established scholars and those of us like myself who are just beginning our academic careers. His work outside of the academy as a singer-songwriter was just as influential as his work as a scholar taking pride in studying his own culture. It is through the diversity of his passions that his work helped to create the modern discipline of Chicano Studies as it stands today.

~ M

Bibliography

Holley, Joe. “Americo Paredes, a Pioneer In Chicano Studies, Dies at 83.” New York Times, May 7, 1999. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/07/arts/americo-paredes-a-pioneer-in-chicano-studies-dies-at-83.html.

Medrano, Manuel F.  Américo Paredes: In His Own Words, an Authorized Biography. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010.

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Américo Paredes

Anna May Wong

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[A black and white photograph of Anna May Wong looking glamorous as all hell circa 1935. Her gaze is focused somewhere behind her and to her right, creating the illusion of ignoring the camera and her onlookers. This photograph is in the public domain, and was found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_May_Wong_-_portrait.jpg ]

Today’s post is dedicated to the talented and absolutely fabulous actress known as Anna May Wong. Born Wong Liu Tsong (Yellow Frosted Willow) in Los Angeles early in 1905 to Chinese-American parents who ran a laundry, Wong went on to become one of the only Asian-American actresses of the early to mid-twentieth century in American cinema (Hodges, 1). Beginning her career at a young age, first in silent film and moving into talkies, she worked in the film industry as a renowned actress until her untimely death in 1961.

Her films ranged from 1922’s The Toll of the Sea, 1929’s Piccadilly, 1931’s Daughter of the Dragon, and 1943’s anti-Japanese propaganda film Bombs Over Burma, with her being cast in different “ethnic” roles ranging from Inuit to Mongolian throughout her career. As scholar Anthony B. Chan notes in Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961), Wong’s varied roles were “designed to reveal an exotic, stern, and mysterious Asian being rather than a matter-of-fact person who relished the art of repartee. Her films served to create an aura of aloofness that seemed to encourage a sexual encounter but at the same time pushed aside the possibility of touching and intimacy” (Chan, 193).

Wong was constantly cast as the “ultimate cinematic tease” in Hollywood films (Chan, 193), as a stereotypical “Dragon Lady” in her early years, leading her to leave for Europe in search of more fulfilling roles that did not rely on her playing a supporting “exotic” character. By leaving the United States film industry for the industries flourishing in Europe, she was able to escape being constantly typecast as an exotic supporting role, which came out of a combination of anti-miscegenation laws that disallowed her from having on-screen romances with anyone who was not Asian and from Euro-American actresses constantly being cast in yellow-faced leading Asian roles. Eventually, she was signed on to Paramount in the 1930s and returned to the United States after starring in several European films of varying success. As her fame grew in the United States during the 1930s, she began to advocate on behalf of the Chinese-American community and new Chinese refugees during a time of extreme anti-Asian racism and hostility in the United States that had begun with the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century and continued on throughout the next century.

Wong’s career spanned a breadth of roles, from stereotypical and offensive to witty and empowering, that constantly subverted Euro-American expectations of (East) Asian-American women. She was an “icon to the people of Chinese North America” who wrote tongue-in-cheek signatures on publicity photos destined for Euro-Americans, such as “Orientally yours” (Chan, xii;  Hodges, xvii). Anna May Wong’s life leads us to interrogate the ways that rebellion and subversion often co-exist with what, at times, appear to be the upholding of oppressive norms. Furthermore, Wong’s “exoticized” beauty forces us to grapple with the ways in which beauty is often weaponized against particular gendered and racialized historical subjects, leading to a forced simplification of an individual’s complexity and humanity. Wong’s sexualized appeal as a racialized subject of White fetishes regarding East Asian women is an essential aspect in understanding the complicated history of media portrayals of Asian women that reverberate into the present day.

We here at the HHBlog have the utmost respect for trail-blazing women like Anna May Wong and hope that in detailing a little bit of her life in all of its intricacies, we have inspired you to think critically about the way women living at the intersections of fetishized and sexualized racism resist, rebel, and survive.

~ M

Bibliography

Chan, Anthony B. Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961). Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Hodges, Graham Russell Gao. Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.

Tiana (Thi Thanh Nga). “THE LONG MARCH: From Wong to Woo: Asians in Hollywood.” Cinéaste 21, no. 4 (1995): 38-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41687420.

Anna May Wong

The Amistad Africans

We here at the Blog dedicate ourselves each week to writing a post on a person (or set of people) that has been in some way marginalized, written out of mainstream historical narratives, or dismissed as unimportant for various reasons. We spend a lot of our time for each post researching the person/people in question, writing up a short but still informative post, and editing to make sure there aren’t too many glaring mistakes, inaccuracies, or problems with what we choose to present our readers with each week. Some posts come easier than others, not because of an assumed superficiality of the historical subject we are writing about but for various other reasons. Other posts – at least for myself – take on a fourth step in my “research-write-edit” (repeat) process. That fourth step often includes a self-critical (re)evaluation of the entire post and the Blog.

The responsibility that comes with running a blog named Historical Hotties weighs heavily when you are trying to both bring attention to oft-overlooked historical figures or their communities without simultaneously fetishizing or bringing unwanted bigotry to their descendants or present-day communities. Today’s post grapples more clearly with those issues than perhaps other posts, specifically because the subjects were a group of Black men and four Black children who were captured, enslaved, and brought across the Middle Passage to the Americas (Turtle Island). The present-day issues of how to commemorate and celebrate their resilience without romanticizing or fetishizing suffering and oppression are key questions that we must deal with here at the Blog, and that historians working both within and outside of the academy must be held accountable to. These issues are also layered with the larger questions of who has claims to what history. These questions present themselves differently to those of us who write about our own people’s histories versus those of us who write about the histories of peoples who we do not come from.

With these questions in mind, for today’s post we present to you the history of the Amistad Africans (as they are commonly and presently referred to). The story of the Amistad Africans is one that many historians of enslavement will be familiar with, or fans of Steven Spielberg films will be at least vaguely familiar with. The Amistad Africans were a group of forty-nine adult men and four children who were originally from interior Mende country in what is present-day southern Sierra Leone (Osagie, 4). These fifty-three people were kidnapped in 1836 and sold into enslavement to two Spanish slavers, Pedro Montes and José Ruiz, who then proceeded to force them across the Atlantic Ocean along the Middle Passage until they reached the Caribbean. Stopping in La Habana and switching ships to La Amistad, their ultimate destination was Puerto Príncipe.

On the third night en route from La Habana to Puerto Príncipe, the forty-nine Mende men revolted after the ship’s cook Celestino taunted them with cannibalism. Senbge Pieh (one of the Mende men) incited the other men to action: “We may as well die trying to be free, as to be killed and eaten” (as quoted in Osagie, 5). Senbge with the help of another man, Grabeau, broke out of his chains and once all of the men were freed from their iron collars, proceeded to grab cane knives and kill the captain and the cook. In the ensuing rebellion, two of the Mende men were killed and two Spanish seamen managed to escape by boat. Ruiz and Montes – the men who were to hold the Amistad Africans in enslavement – were captured and became prisoners on the ship. However, as none of the Mende men knew how to navigate La Amistad, they depended on their prisoners Ruiz and Montes to aid them back to Africa.

Ruiz and Montes by day travelled east, and by night steered La Amistad west and north, hoping to land in the United States. After two months, eight people dying of various illnesses, and a quickly depleting food supply, they eventually reached Long Island, New York. The Amistad Africans, after attempting to negotiate with local captains, were captured by the navy and taken prisoner where they would spend the next twenty-seven months in captivity. On August 27th, 1836, La Amistad was towed to New London, Connecticut and the story soon turned into an international incident as the enslaved people’s worth exceeded an estimated $70,000, leading the case to be taken up by the American court system. The case was presided over by pro-enslavement judges where the adult Amistad Africans were tried with murder and piracy.

While the case developed in Connecticut, abolitionists began to take notice, including Dwight Janes who went to the August 29th hearing and learned that the Mende men and four children had been brought to La Habana directly from Mende country despite the Atlantic Slave Trade being legally “over” (although, of course, in practice this was not the case). The editor of the Emancipator Rev. Joshua Leavitt and Simeon Jocelyn (a White minister in New Haven’s first Black church) along with the businessman and abolitionist Lewis Tappan soon rallied in support with Janes, hoping to meet the needs of the Amistad Africans in regards to their legal defense (Osagie, 7). The group of abolitionists who took it upon themselves to provide legal counsel eventually found John Ferry, a free Black Mende man living in New York, who served as the initial interpreter in the early stages of the case. Eventually another free Black Mende man, James Covey, took on the role of interpreter for the duration of the case.

The case proceeded to gain more attention not only within the United States but in Cuba, Spain, and Great Britain. However, it was not the attention of other imperial powers that swayed the former President John Quincy Adams to eventually take on the case in front of the Supreme Court. It was instead the words of two of the Amistad Africans, Kali and Kinna (sometimes spelled Kenna) who wrote to him, pleading for his legal aid. Adams took on the case, with the Supreme Court upholding the rulings of lower courts stating that the Amistad Africans (only thirty-five of whom were still alive at this point) were not enslaved but instead free men illegally kidnapped from Africa, pointing to the Atlantic Slave Trade’s illegal status in 1836 as proof of their freedom. The Amistad Africans and the Amistad Committee (comprising the many abolitionists who came to their aid) raised money to return to Mende country by various means including going on church speaking tours and making crafts (Osagie, 18). Eventually, the thirty-five remaining Amistad Africans made it back to their homeland by sailing with a group of White and Black American missionaries.

We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to the resistance the Amistad Africans enacted against their enslavement, both the violent aspects of their rebellion and the non-violent ones such as the letters Kali and Kinna wrote to John Quincy Adams. The histories of these fifty-three Mende people point us in various directions, including being cognizant of the history we are literally living on top of. As a student at Yale University, an institution built on stolen Indigenous land and with the funds of enslavement as its source of original wealth, in New Haven, it is important for me to engage with the history of the place I live in, and this includes situating myself in relation to this history that partly took place in New Haven, Connecticut (located on Quinnipiac Territory). Alongside the familiarity with the history of particular places that academic spaces are found in, the histories of the Amistad Africans also forces us to recon with questions regarding the limits of utilizing the (il)legality of settler colonial and imperial states in seeking justice; of how piracy was often depicted as a specifically racialized threat; and of how transnational histories of enslavement and resistance engage with one another across and along the Atlantic.

We hope our readers take it upon themselves to seek out histories of resistance such as those of the Amistad Africans, or at least in learning a little bit about the places we variously call “home.”

~ M

Bibliography:

Osagie, Iyunolu Folayan. The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.

 

 

The Amistad Africans

Joan Nestle

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[A wonderful photograph of Joan Nestle, found on her website http://www.joannestle.com/]

Born in May 1940, Joan Nestle is a Jewish working class lesbian icon of the twentieth century. Nestle grew up in the Bronx, New York City, with her mother Regina working as a seamstress in the Garment District to support her family.

Nestle, in her seventy-five years, has been an activist, a writer, an historian, an archivist. She is a self-described “queer, pre-Stonewall fem [sic]” for whom “sex and politics are inseparable,” each informing “the other; passions spilling over into social visions; social visions carried on every entry” (Nestle, xii). Nestle actively defended femme-butch relationships and gender identities at a time when there was no space or tolerance to do so in mainstream America. She fought on behalf of  and alongside Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, stood up for her community of working class lesbians, and was actively pro-sex during the sex wars of the 1980s.

Nestle even took on history itself, writing of how history is “a place where the body carries its own story” (Nestle, xv). She wrote herself and her communities into American history through her writing and teaching, claiming erotic writing as “a documentary [as much] as any biographical display,” a “people’s most private historic territory” (Nestle, xvi). Her writing did not, however, go without controversy, leading to her books being banned at various times and places during the sex wars and afterwards. Alongside her writing, she helped found and curate the United States’s oldest and largest lesbian archival collection, the Lesbian Herstory Archives (which were housed in her New York City apartment for decades).

Nestle is most definitely worthy of the title of Historical Hottie. We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to her beautiful spirit.

~ M

Bibliography

Nestle, Joan. A Restricted Country. San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2003.

Joan Nestle

Dr. Hilde L. Mosse

Today’s Historical Hottie comes to us from Kaitlin, an MA History student who studies histories of immigration and ethnicity; class; and gender in 20th-century Canada. Here at Historical Hotties Blog, we want to make sure that there are more than just our two voices deciding on who we will feature each week. So look forward to more guest posts, and for now, enjoy what Kaitlin has wonderfully written up on Dr. Hilde L. Mosse:

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[Photo of Hilde L. Mosse, source http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html]

On Wednesday nights throughout the 1950s, you could find Hilde Mosse at 215 West 133rd Street, Harlem, New York. She served as head psyciatrist at the Lafargue Clinic, the first mental health clinic to offer accessible psychiatric services to the neighborhood. Harlem intellectuals Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright and émigré psychologist Frederic Wertham founded the clinic with a team of volunteers and community members to meet the psychiatric needs of the community. Mosse was one of many intellectuals, doctors, clergy, and artists who worked to establish a progressive model of mental health care as an “integral part of the struggle for racial equality in the United States in the early post-World War II-era.”* A refugee from Nazi Germany, who honed her commitment to social justice through close involvement with the sex reform movements of the Weimar Republic, Mosse volunteered her time at the clinic each week until its closure in 1959.

In writing a post on Hilde Mosse, I am turning some attention to one of the many European émigrés who fled persecution based on their heritage, profession, or political beliefs. I admire Mosse for her commitment to social justice in the face of adversity. Her activism recognized the interlocking relationships among institutional racism, structural violence, and medical practices. Mosse is hot for her courage to adapt and pursue her political convictions throughout her personal and professional life.

Born into a privileged Berlin family in 1913, Mosse fled from Europe to America in 1938. In the isolation of exile, she worked tirelessly to help her family, friends, and peers escape Nazi persecution. The courage and resilience of those touched by this history is outstanding. Though Mosse is not particularly unique amongst the countless stories of escape and survival in these years, she is unusual for her success in pursuing her commitments to the “social and political ideals she had gained from volunteer work in a Berlin working-class district and the left-wing anti-fascist struggle.”** Though many historians argue that the spirit of Weimar Reform died with the rise of National Socialism in Germany, Mosse’s investment in the Lafargue Clinic is one case where it carried on in exile.

In the aftermath of World War II, Black Americans were outspoken of the irony of fighting white supremacy abroad while living in an apartheid America. Harlem residents who had recently migrated from the South faced segregated housing and forced slum conditions in their new Northern homes; conditions which adversely affected their mental health. Harlem intellectuals and community members looked to psychiatry as a tool to alleviate the psychological brutality of living in an unequal society. This reality was recognized by the clinic’s blend of psychological traditions with pragmatic solutions to best meet their clients’ needs. It was a collaborative project between experts and residents in a quest for racial justice.

After the clinic’s closure in 1949, Mosse went on to work in the field of child psychology. She maintained close ties with the director, Frederic Wertham, and helped him prepare evidence of the harms of segregated schooling. Recently, Mosse’s niece remembered,

 

“One of Hilde’s proudest moments was when a special letter was received by the Lafargue Clinic from the head of the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Thurgood Marshall, future Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. The letter thanked Lafargue for their assistance with the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education.” ***

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[Photo of Hilde L. Mosse with client, source http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html]

 

Mosse’s privileged upbringing helped her throughout her life. It allowed her the best schooling and medical training, skills that carried over and helped her in America. Her English language skills, for example, helped her secure a teaching job upon first arrival. Though overqualified for the position, it was an opportunity that eluded many émigré health professionals. Despite this privilege, she faced the destruction of her life in Germany and met the challenges of rebuilding in a foreign country. Throughout these hardships, she maintained her political convictions and belief that society should be made more just through social actions. Mosse was one of the volunteers who made the Lafargue Clinic possible; recognizing her as a historical hottie is a reiteration of the importance of the communities and collaborations in enacting—through collective effort and perseverance—social change.

* Gabriel N. Mendes, Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell University Press: 2015), 4.

** George L. Mosse, Confronting History: A Memoir (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000): 77.

*** Honoring My Aunt, Dr. Hilde L. Mosse. The Roda Group. Accessed June 02, 2016. http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html.

 

Bibliography

Ash, M. G. “Women émigré psychologists and Psycho-analysts in the United States.” In Sibylle Quack’s, Between sorrow and strength: women refugees of the Nazi period. Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute, 1995.

Grossmann, Anita. Reforming sex: the German movement for birth control and abortion reform, 1920-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Honoring My Aunt, Dr. Hilde L. Mosse. The Roda Group. Accessed June 02, 2016. http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html.

Mendes, Gabriel N. Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry. Cornell University Press, 2015.

Mosse, George L. Confronting History: A Memoir. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

Stewart, Catherine A. “Crazy for this Democracy”: Postwar Psychoanalysis, African American Blues Narratives, and the Lafargue Clinic.” American Quarterly 65, no.2 (2013): 371 – 395.

 

 

Dr. Hilde L. Mosse

Tituba

Histories of settler colonialism and enslavement are inseparable in the Americas. These twin genocides, at once separate and yet indispensable to one another, have forged to create the bedrock of the United States and many other modern-day countries in the Americas such as México and Brasil. Although we know relatively little about today’s historical figure, her life is demonstrative of how histories of settler colonialism and enslavement were intertwined in the Americas in the seventeenth century.

Tituba was an enslaved woman who was the first woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. Her personal history, as with that of millions of enslaved people in the Americas, is murky as to her ethnic background and her exact biographical details. Born in the seventeenth century, there are two main theories as to where Tituba hailed from. The first, as put forward most prominently by the scholar Elaine Breslaw, was that Tituba was an Indigenous woman of Arawak descent, from the present-day region known as Guyana and Venezuela. The second theory was put forth by Peter Hoffer in 1997, and claims that Tituba was a Yoruba woman – as her name is a Yoruba word. Either of these theories could be true, or neither. She could have been an Arawak woman, a Yoruba woman, an Afro-Indigenous woman, or a woman from various other ethnic groups. Regardless, she was enslaved by Samuel Parris in Barbados and forcibly brought to Massachusetts.

In 1692, several young girls and women from Parris’s household – including his daughter Betty and niece Abigail – began to exhibit symptoms that were classified as bewitchment, and Tituba (along with two other women) was accused of witchcraft. Tituba was put on trial, and provided testimony saying that it was “the devil, for all I know” that had bewitched the four young girls/women. Tituba provided one of the longest testimonies in the Salem Witch Trials, one that went on to influence how the rest of the trials were conducted.

Tituba’s life has been subject to the whims of historians, authors, artists, and the general public since the seventeenth century. Her origins, her testimony, her involvement in witchcraft have all been historicized according to the sociocultural and racial context of those writing her story. At times depicted as Indigenous, at other times African, and at other times of mixed background, Tituba’s story has been twisted to suite the modes of the moment in which any given historian, author, or artist has depicted her. Tituba, as with the broader history of witchcraft in the Americas, is a complicated figure. What constituted as witchcraft? What type of person was accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials? How does the perception of Tituba’s “racial” origin matter to accusations of witchcraft? How should we understand her testimony – that of an enslaved woman of colour/Indigenous woman accused of a spiritual, gendered crime? In what ways do particular gender identities become intertwined in histories of colonial witchcraft? Where do Euro-centric understandings and histories of witchcraft fit (or collide) with other ways of knowing and communing with spiritual worlds that originate in Indigenous traditions or West African traditions?

These are questions that continue to perplex historians of witchcraft and practitioners of various traditions referred to as “witchcraft” alike.

~ M

Bibliography

Barillari, Alyssa. “Tituba.” Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/tituba.html.

Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies. New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.

 

Tituba

Viola Liuzzo

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[A photograph of Viola Liuzzo as a young woman, retrieved from the Levi Watkins Learning Center Digital Library http://www.lib.alasu.edu/lwlcdigitallib/liuzzo/bio.html]

Viola Liuzzo, born in Pennsylvania in 1925, was a woman whose life was launched into the public eye with her unfortunate and tragic death. Living a relatively quiet life until a few weeks prior to her death, she was a part-time university student, homemaker, and mother to five children. Throughout early 1965 she participated in marches in support of the Civil Rights Movement while living in Detroit, Michigan. However, when she witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday on television and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pleas for “all Americans [to] bear the burden” in the “struggle… for the soul of the nation,” she left her student- and family-life and traveled to Selma, Alabama. Once in Selma, Liuzzo lent her car and ability to drive to the Movement, along with greeting newcomers in the Movement’s hospitality suite.

On the night of March 25, 1965 Viola Liuzzo was horrifically murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. While driving with Leroy Moton, a nineteen year old Black activist, en route to Montgomery, Alabama, four members of the Ku Klux Klan — one of whom was Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., the top FBI informant for the Alabama KKK for five years– fired shots into Liuzzo’s moving vehicle. Liuzzo died instantly, with Moton escaping with his life only by pretending to be dead. They were targeted because Liuzzo, a White woman, and Moton, a young Black man, were breaking Jim Crow social mores that dictated the lives of everyone in the South by riding alone in a car together.

The FBI began an investigation into Liuzzo’s death, but Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. had all charges dropped against him and instead was revealed to be an FBI informant, eventually being given a $10,000 reward by the FBI for “his services.” Within hours, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke publicly about Liuzzo’s tragic murder, her White womanhood playing a key role in the attention that was paid to her death. Despite her death serving as a catapult to change legislation regarding the deaths of Civil Rights activists in the United States, it also brought unwanted attention to Johnson’s Administration and the FBI, with questions circulating as to why Rowe was illegally involved with the KKK and had not stopped the attack against Liuzzo and Moton. In the words of historian Gary May, “[t]o divert attention away from his informant… Hoover [the Director of the FBI at the time] created a more alluring subject for media attention. He and his men worked quickly to transform Viola Liuzzo, mother of five and part-time college student, into a blond seductress who came south not to fight for civil rights but instead to sleep with black men… None of this was true, but Hoover’s files eventually wound up in Klan literature” with the “killers’ attorneys distribut[ing] the hate-filled pamphlets to reporters,” making “Liuzzo’s character a major issue when their clients came to trial” (146).

Liuzzo’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, ending with her untimely death at the hands of White terrorists, is demonstrative of how White womanhood was understood during the 1960s in relation to Black masculinity; to activism and its often deadly consequences; to Southern narratives of sexuality; and to the ways in which White Americans were awoken to the oppression Black Americans faced often only through the violence that televisions projected into living rooms across the United States. It is important for us as historians to tell the stories of women like Liuzzo, while simultaneously being cautious to not replicate the imbalanced attention that was paid to her death versus the deaths of countless Black American activists that often go unnamed in modern histories of struggle and oppression in the United States.

~ M

Bibliography

Federal Investigation Bureau. Accessed March 25, 2016. https://vault.fbi.gov/Viola%20Liuzzo.

May, Gary. Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Stanton, Mary. “Viola Liuzzo.” In Encyclopedia of Alabama. Last updated January 7, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1377.

Viola Liuzzo