Historical exhibit will focus on what made Michigan

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published February 25, 2015

 A model of Le Griffon, on loan from Mariner’s Church in Detroit, will be exhibited in “101 People, Places and Things that Made Michigan” Feb. 28 through May 9 at the Lorenzo Cultural Center, 44575 Garfield Road in Clinton Township.

A model of Le Griffon, on loan from Mariner’s Church in Detroit, will be exhibited in “101 People, Places and Things that Made Michigan” Feb. 28 through May 9 at the Lorenzo Cultural Center, 44575 Garfield Road in Clinton Township.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for civil rights supporters to meet in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965 for a peaceful march, Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo didn’t hesitate.

The white activist felt so strongly about the Civil Rights Movement that she left her five children and husband, got in her Oldsmobile, and made the trip to demonstrate for the rights of black Americans.

It ultimately cost Liuzzo her life when she was gunned down by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Liuzzo’s story will be one of many highlighted during the “101 People, Places and Things that Made Michigan” exhibit at the Lorenzo Cultural Center on the Center Campus of Macomb Community College, 44575 Garfield Road. The exhibit runs Feb. 28 through May 9. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

The exhibit will include guest speakers, artifacts, photographs, pottery and glassware. Visitors can also view a vintage Mustang, a World War II vehicle, and a replica of the bell off the Edmund Fitzgerald. Programs will cover the Motown sound, land treaties, Michigan’s radio broadcasting history, Jackson State Prison, Bath City USA and much more.

MCC history professor Michael Placco will present “Viola Liuzzo: Passionate Undertakings” at 1 p.m. April 11. Placco will talk about her early life, her activism in the civil rights movement, and the legal proceedings that followed her death.

Liuzzo was born in Pennsylvania in 1925. Over time, the family moved to Tennessee, where Placco said Liuzzo witnessed segregation and Jim Crow laws.

“You’ll get to see how that impacted her,” Placco said.

The family moved to Detroit when Liuzzo was a teenager. During her life, she married three times and became a member of the NAACP, according to Placco. When she dropped out of high school, she protested against Detroit laws that allowed students to drop out so easily.

“She was one of many that heard Dr. King,” Placco said. “There were many people that felt the call and were doing what she was doing. She did what she felt was right at a great cost to herself.”

The 39-year-old, who marched in Selma with others and then used her vehicle to shuttle protesters back and forth to the airport and bus stations, was fatally shot in the head March 25, 1965 by Klansmen who ran her off the road in her car.

“She must have gotten on their radar,” Placco said. “They followed her and shot her basically at point blank. Her body was brought back to Detroit on a plane paid for by the Teamsters, I believe.”

Liuzzo is buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. While she has been called heroic for her activism, she also had detractors.

“There was a lot of criticism directed at her actions,” Placco said. “What kind of mother would leave her husband and her children? She has to maintain a household.”

If she had lived, Placco thinks Liuzzo would be pleased to see racial diversity and how far black citizens have progressed in academics, politics and government. 

The idea for the “101 People, Places and Things that Made Michigan” exhibit stemmed from a “Smithsonian” article about the 101 things that made America. Christine Guarino, MCC director of cultural affairs and community engagements, said organizers began with 250 ideas and then narrowed them down.

“We reached out to the faculty, and they helped us fine-tune it even more,” Guarino said. “Then we do our digging and our research. We borrow artifacts. We borrow photographs. We’ll recreate some of the images with permission. Basically what we’re doing is telling a story. ”

Since 2006, the center has held exhibits that highlight Macomb County and Michigan. A look at WWII, the Great Lakes, and the 1960s were among the many programs. “Science and Space Exploration: Imagining the Future” was the first program, which kicked off with a special VIP reception with astronaut John Glenn. Guarino said each exhibit has attracted 10,000 to 15,000 visitors, including classes of school children from the tri-county area.

“It’s a destination for people here in the county,” Guarino said. “It’s wonderful to see the reach the programs have.”

It’s hard for Guarino to pick a favorite exhibit, but she really enjoyed the WWII program primarily because her dad, who is still living, served in the military at that time. Seeing all the veterans who came in for that program was a great experience for Guarino. 

Museum organizers used to have two exhibits per year: one in the fall and another during the winter/spring. Now, one is only held in the spring.

“We found we were competing with testing (in the fall) at the schools,” Guarino said. “The college went out for a millage. It didn’t pass. I felt we needed to help the college a bit. We gave some of our budget back.”

While the presentations are free to the public, organizers must pay speakers’ fees and pay for the artifacts on loan.

This will be the last exhibit for Guarino. She is retiring and passing the helm to Eric Kerchner, who will take her place.

“It has been great working on all of them,” Guarino said. “I am going to miss this part a lot.”

While the exhibit events are free, guests are asked to register by calling (586) 445-7348 so seating can be accommodated. For a list of presentations, visit www.LorenzoCulturalCenter.com.