The Informant: The FBI, The Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo by Gary May (Yale University), 431 pages,$43.50 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement, died peacefully in October at the age of 92, but many other activists were gunned down on the hard road to equal rights for African Americans.
Some, like Martin Luther King Jr., have become legendary martyrs. Others' names are no longer remembered.
One of those forgotten heroes, a troubled white Michigan mother of five, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in the furious days of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Her name was Viola Liuzzo.
Gary May, a professor at the University of Delaware, has written a powerful piece of investigative history, detailing the life and crimes of one of the men who had a hand in the shooting of Liuzzo, Gary Thomas Rowe, the FBI's man in the Klan.
In the early 1960s, the Klan was a dangerous racist terrorist organization, hell-bent on keeping black Americans down. Their methods included bombings, beatings and shootings.
Southern law enforcement had long been the friend of the hooded empire, encouraging and often participating in their crimes. The FBI decided it needed somebody inside the Klan feeding the Bureau intelligence on their activities. Rowe was the perfect man for the job.
Rowe worked his way up the Klan's chain of command, earning his bona fides by bloodying civil rights activists.
Night riding with three other Klansmen on a hunt for "outside agitators," they saw Liuzzo driving with a black passenger. The gunmen chased the two down and shot Liuzzo dead through her car window. In the end, Rowe turned out to be more interested in thuggery than in law enforcement.
This is an urgent cautionary tale - those using informants in the wars on terror should take note and a strongly written account of a frustrating failure of justice.