Packing Up The Newsroom ► Unpacking The Writer
My old house to the Viola Liuzzo Playground is just over 1/2 mile

The 3rd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research begins early tomorrow morning and the excitement is building.

Yesterday I told someone that driving is my “happy place.” There’s nothing I like better than to get behind the wheel, crank up the tunes, and cruise. I have many hours of that ahead of me over the next few weeks and am looking forward to it.

Excitement is also building — I hope — among those folk who signed up for a visit during this year’s road trip. Several of them are repeat customers, so I must be doing something right. A few of them are brand new to the Aunty Em Experience. I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

Among my stops are Centerville, Columbus, Elyria, Akron, and Columbus, all in Ohio. I’ll be retracing my steps in West Virginia, the subject of last year’s A Tribute to Don Knotts ► Morgantown’s Favourite Son. The last 2 stops will be to visit people in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Oviedo, Florida. The latter is someone I’ve known in Cyberville for decades, yet we’ve never had the chance to meet.

During this year’s Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research I’ve also scheduled several stops for Racial Research™ along the route. I’ll be visiting the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon, GA; the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, with a stop to pay respects at Mother Emanuel Church; and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Through sheer synchronicity the Wright Museum is holding CALL of The DRUM: An International Drum Summit on the weekend I’ll be there. I’m taking my claves.

As well I plan to stop off for a night in St. Augustine. I’ve been there once and found it incredibly beautiful. It’s the oldest, continually inhabited city in this country. Ponce de Leon was tramping around there and I can’t wait to see it again.

There’s been no word from J$ on whether he wants to help me write The Johnny Dollar Wars ► The Final Chapter? There’s still another 10 days for him to decide whether he has the cajones to confront the man he relentlessly cyber-bullied for more than 3 years. Regardless of whether he participates, the final chapter will be written.

However, one part of this trip only got added to my itinerary yesterday, and it’s an interesting story. Have a seat. Relax.

In preparation for this year’s Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research I was looking on Google Maps for the name of a park in my old neighbourhood. If I remember correctly, this park once had a water tower, torn down in the late ’50s or the early ’60s. I have vague memories of playing on the girders after it was ripped down, but before they had been hauled away.

What I discovered on Google Maps came as a shock, mostly because it came as a total surprise. It’s the Viola Liuzzo Playground.

I had no idea this park was named after a Civil Rights Martyr from Detroit. I had no idea Viola Liuzzo came from my old neighbourhood. This is a woman whom I have read about so many times in so many books. I’ve watched documentaries in which she has appeared prominently. Tara Ochs plays her in the movie Selma.

Brownsville Herald – April 4, 1964

The house I grew up in was slightly over a half mile from the Viola Liuzzo Playground. [See map above] In 1964 I was 12 years old yet I knew nothing of any of this. Whyzzat? This is as local as it gets. Cross burnings in my neighbourhood? Really?

When I visit Detroit this time I am going to visit this park. It’s my plan to write about it and, more importantly, write about my ignorance of the fact that her funeral, with Martin Luthur King, Jr., attending, happened practically under my nose without me realizing it.

I have now been in contact with Mary Liuzzo, Viola’s daughre, who identified 19375 Marlowe Street as the house that Viola Liuzzo left behind to join the Freedom March in Selma, Alabama. She never returned, having been murdered as she was ferrying Freedom Riders to several locations. A week after her death a cross was burned on her lawn.

Hopefully, one of the other people I’ll be seeing on this trip is Pastor Ken Wilson. We grew up across the street from each other and recently reconnected losing track of each other 45 years ago. Ken has become a bit infamous over the last year. As Senior Pastor of the Vinelands Church in Ann Arbor, a church he founded in his living room 40 years ago, Wilson wrote what I believe is a very important book. “A Letter to My Congregation” argues for full inclusion and acceptance in the church of the LGBT communities. For his troubles, he was kicked to the curb by Vinelands Church — or he resigned in mutual agreement. However, that hasn’t stopped him.

It’s to Pastor Kenny that I’ve addressed all my Pastoral Letters. However, I’ve just learned there may be a scheduling problem and a reunion with Kenny may not be in the cards after all.

Curious, I’ve just asked Ken electronically. While he was aware that Viola Liuzzo was a Civil Rights Martyr, he was also unaware that she was from our own neighbourhood and was as ignorant as I was about the cross burning just a mile and a half from where we lived.

This is going to be the best Sunrise to
Canton Road Trip for Research

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.