County native part of NPR podcast

Published 11:45 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A new National Public Radio podcast, “White Lies,” features a Covington County native in its second episode.

The series examines Civil Rights-related murders, particularly in Selma. Episode 1 is about the unsolved murder of a white Unitarian minister, the Rev. James Reeb.

Episode 2, which first aired this week, also examines the death of Viola Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Detroit, who had come south to Selma to help with the Selma to Montgomery march.

On March 25, 1965, Liuzzo was heading to Montgomery to pick up marchers and ferry them back to Selma. A car full of Klansmen chased her down and shot into the vehicle, killing Liuzzo and wounding the young black man who was with her.

The murder occurred just east of Selma, in Lowndes County. Florala native Joe Breck Gantt, then an assistant attorney general, prosecuted the case. Now 90 and living in Panama City, Gantt was interviewed for the podcast.

Gantt recalled that the imperial wizard of the Klan sat at the defense table in Lowndesboro.

The case ended in hung jury. All but two of the all-white jurors voted for a conviction.

“Gantt had gotten closer to a conviction than nearly any other Southern prosecutor in a racially motivated case like this one,” journalist Andrew Beck Grace says. He and journalist Chip Brantley, both Alabama natives, host the podcast series.

When the case was retried in October, then-Attorney General Richmond Flowers decided to head the case, which he lost. Flowers, who had publicly criticized then-Gov. George Wallace, was very unpopular.

Gantt and his daughter, Gretchen Gantt Franco, who also is interviewed in the podcast, recalled that the family had to have their phone number changed, and that someone burned a cross in their yard.

“We had to go live with Granny for a while ‘cause you were worried about us,” Franco recalled.

The podcast also discusses the role of an FBI informant, a Klansmen, who was in the vehicle with the men who murdered Liuzzo. Liuzzo’s family later learned that the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover created a smear campaign to damage Mrs. Liuzzo’s reputation in an attempt to keep journalists from discovering that one of his informants was involved in the murder.

New episodes are released on Tuesdays.