Isaac Woodard
American victim of racial abuse
Isaac Woodard
Isaac Woodard, Jr. , often written Isaac Woodward, was an African American World War II veteran whose 1946 beating and maiming, hours after being discharged from the United States Army, sparked national outrage and galvanized the civil rights movement in the United States. Still in uniform, Woodard was left completely and permanently blind after a run-in with police.
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  • 1992
    Age 72
    Isaac Woodard moved North after the trial and lived in the New York City area for the rest of his life. He died at age 73 in the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx on September 23, 1992.
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  • 1988
    Age 68
    Woodard was the focus of Welles's four subsequent broadcasts. "The NAACP felt that these broadcasts did more than anything else to prompt the Justice Department to act on the case," wrote the Museum of Broadcasting in a 1988 exhibit on Welles.
    More Details Hide Details Musicians wrote songs about Woodard and the attack. A month after the beating, calypso artist Lord Invader recorded an anti-racism song for his album Calypso at Midnight; it was entitled "God Made Us All", with the last line of the song directly referring to the incident. Later that year, folk artist Woody Guthrie recorded "The Blinding of Isaac Woodard," which he wrote for his album The Great Dust Storm. He said that he wrote the song " so's you wouldn't be forgetting what happened to this famous Negro soldier less than three hours after he got his Honorable Discharge down in Atlanta."
  • 1955
    Age 35
    Orson Welles revisited the Woodard case in the May 7, 1955, broadcast of his BBC TV series, Orson Welles' Sketch Book.
    More Details Hide Details Woody Guthrie later recalled, "I sung 'The Blinding of Isaac Woodard' in the Lewisohn Stadium (in New York City) one night for more than 36,000 people, and I got the loudest applause I've ever got in my whole life."
  • 1952
    Age 32
    Because of his low approval ratings and a bad showing in early primaries, President Truman chose not to seek re-election in 1952, though he could have done so.
    More Details Hide Details He had been exempted from the term limitations under the 22nd amendment.
  • 1948
    Age 28
    Nevertheless, polls showed opposition to Truman's civil rights efforts. They likely cost him some support in his 1948 reelection bid against Thomas Dewey.
    More Details Hide Details Although he narrowly won, Michael Gardner believes that his continued championing of civil rights as federal priority cost him much support, especially in the Solid South. White Democrats had long exercised outsize political power in Congress, having disfranchised most blacks there since the turn of the twentieth century, but benefiting by apportionment based on total population. Truman's efforts threatened other changes, since numerous communities across the country had restrictive covenants that were racially discriminatory.
    On February 2, 1948, President Truman sent the first comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress. It incorporated many of the 35 recommendations of his commission. In July 1948, over the objection of senior military officers, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, banning racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces, and Executive Order 9980 to integrate the federal government. (Facilities had been segregated under President Woodrow Wilson).
    More Details Hide Details This was in response to a number of incidents against black veterans, most notably the Woodard case. The armed forces and federal agencies led the way in United States for integration of the workplace, public facilities and schools. Over the decades, the decision meant that both institutions benefited from the contributions of minorities.
  • 1947
    Age 27
    He asked them to report by the end of 1947. Truman made a strong speech on civil rights on June 29, 1947 to the NAACP, the first American president to speak to their meeting, which was broadcast by radio from where they met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
    More Details Hide Details The President said that civil rights was a moral priority, and it was his priority for the federal government. He had seen by Woodard's and other cases that the issue could not be left to the states and local governments. He said: It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens. Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to insure that all Americans enjoy these rights. When I say all Americans—I mean all Americans.
  • 1946
    Age 26
    On September 19, 1946, seven months after the incident, NAACP Executive Secretary Walter Francis White met with President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office to discuss the Woodard case.
    More Details Hide Details Gardner writes that when Truman "heard this story in the context of the state authorities of South Carolina doing nothing for seven months, he exploded." The following day, Truman wrote a letter to Attorney General Tom C. Clark demanding that action be taken to address South Carolina's reluctance to try the case. Six days later, on September 26, Truman directed the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation in the case. A short investigation followed, and on October 2, Shull and several of his officers were indicted in U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina. It was within federal jurisdiction because the beating had occurred at a bus stop on federal property and at the time Woodard was in uniform of the armed services. The case was presided over by Judge Julius Waties Waring. By all accounts, the trial was a travesty. The local U.S. Attorney charged with handling the case failed to interview anyone except the bus driver, a decision that Waring, a civil rights proponent, believed was a gross dereliction of duty. Waring later wrote of being disgusted at the way the case was handled at the local level, commenting, "I was shocked by the hypocrisy of my government in submitting that disgraceful case."
    On his ABC radio show Orson Welles Commentaries, actor and filmmaker Orson Welles crusaded for the punishment of Shull and his accomplices. On the broadcast July 28, 1946, Welles read an affidavit sent to him by the NAACP and signed by Woodard.
    More Details Hide Details He criticized the lack of action by the South Carolina government as intolerable and shameful.
    On February 12, 1946, former U.S. Army Sergeant Isaac Woodard Jr. was on a Greyhound Lines bus traveling from Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, where he had been discharged, en route to rejoin his family in North Carolina.
    More Details Hide Details When the bus reached a rest stop just outside Augusta, Woodard asked the bus driver if there was time for him to use a restroom. The driver grudgingly acceded to the request after an argument. Woodard returned to his seat from the rest stop without incident, and the bus departed. The bus stopped in Batesburg (now Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina), near Aiken. Though Woodard had caused no disruption, the driver contacted the local police (including Chief of Police Lynwood Shull), who forcibly removed Woodard from the bus. After demanding to see his discharge papers, a number of policemen, including Shull, took Woodard to a nearby alleyway, where they beat him repeatedly with nightsticks. They then took Woodard to the town jail and arrested him for disorderly conduct, accusing him of drinking beer in the back of the bus with other soldiers.
    Hours after being honorably discharged from the United States Army on February 12, 1946, he was attacked while still in uniform by South Carolina police over a dispute with a bus driver over the use of the restroom.
    More Details Hide Details The attack and his injuries sparked national outrage and galvanized the civil rights movement in the United States. The attack left Woodard completely and permanently blind. Due to South Carolina's reluctance to pursue the case, President Harry S. Truman ordered a federal investigation. The sheriff was indicted and went to trial in federal court in South Carolina, where he was acquitted by an all-white jury. Such miscarriages of justice by state governments influenced a move towards civil rights initiatives at the federal level. Truman subsequently established a national interracial commission, made a historic speech to the NAACP and the nation in June 1947 in which he described civil rights as a moral priority, submitted a civil rights bill to Congress in February 1948, and issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 on June 26, 1948, desegregating the armed forces and the federal government.
  • 1942
    Age 22
    On October 14, 1942, the 23-year-old Woodard enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.
    More Details Hide Details He served in the Pacific Theater in a labor battalion as a longshoreman and was promoted to sergeant. He earned a battle star for his Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal by unloading ships under enemy fire in New Guinea, and received the Good Conduct Medal as well as the Service medal and World War II Victory Medal awarded to all American participants. He received an honorable discharge.
  • 1919
    Born on March 18, 1919.
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