A Black WWII Veteran Was Beaten and Blinded, Fueling Civil Rights MovementHistorians in the News
tags: veterans, racism, civil rights, African American history, documentary
In February 1946, Sgt. Isaac Woodard, a decorated Black soldier just returning from World War II, rode a Greyhound bus, heading home to South Carolina.
Woodard, who had just been honorably discharged from the Army and was still wearing his uniform, asked the bus driver to stop so that he could use the restroom.
The driver reluctantly pulled over after calling Woodard “boy.”
Woodard, who had just returned from more than three years of military service in the Pacific, stood up for himself and other Black veterans, telling the driver not to talk to him like that.
“I’m a man just like you,” Woodard said.
At the next town, Batesburg, S.C., the driver called the police. The Batesburg police chief pulled Woodard off the bus and immediately began beating him, plunging a blackjack into each of Woodard’s eye sockets and blinding him.
Woodard was taken to jail, where he would later explain that someone poured whiskey on him to say that he had been drunk. He spent the night in excruciating pain. The next morning, he was taken to court and ordered to sign papers that he could not see or read.
A new documentary, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard,” directed by Jamila Ephron and narrated by André Holland, premiered Tuesday on “American Experience” on PBS. The documentary explores the story of Woodard’s life and how the beating fueled the civil rights movement and changed the trajectory of U.S. history.
“Based on Richard Gergel’s book ‘Unexampled Courage,’ the film details how the crime led to the racial awakenings of South Carolina Judge J. Waties Waring and President Harry Truman, who desegregated federal offices and the military two years later,” according to PBS.
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