The Blinding of Isaac Woodard
February 28, 2016 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Seventy years ago this month, U.S. Army Sergeant Isaac Woodard, recently discharged after having served in the Pacific during World War II, boarded a Greyhound bus in Georgia. What happened during his trip outraged the country.

After a heated exchange with the bus driver for refusing to wait while Woodard used the restroom at a planned stop, a group of police officers in Batesburg, South Carolina beat him severely and permanently blinded him. The Federal trial that followed, which included an all white jury, acquitted the Sheriff involved.

However, these events also spurred President Truman to action. Soon after, he gave a speech to the NAACP at the Lincoln Memorial where he declared that the Federal government must take a more active role in ensuring that all citizens are free of, "the harrowing fear of intimidation, and... the threat of physical injury and mob violence". He then issued three Executive orders: 9980 and 9981 were for the purpose of desegregating both the armed forces and the federal government at large, and 9808 which established Truman's Committee on Civil Rights.

Orson Welles used his radio program "Commentary" on CBS to tell Woodard's story and unleash his own personal wrath on the police officers responsible (it is also available for free download at Archive.org)

The post title, incidentally, is the name of a song Woody Guthrie wrote and performed on stage (but never recorded). A cover can be found here.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (16 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for the post!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:49 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


That Orson Welles commentary is stupendous and powerful. It is shameful that Officer X is still with us, and very much with his eyes still closed.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:20 PM on February 28, 2016 [12 favorites]


Before Truman desegregated the armed forces, there was one WWII unit of a sort that was actually integrated: the cast of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army (YT link of the film version, warning for virtually everything that was considered swell in the 1940s and horrifying now), a soldier show that toured to boost morale and raise money for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. While the show itself has moments that go well beyond racially cringeworthy (there's a fair bit of blackface), the company toured the United States as an integrated cast, the only such unit in the Army. The unit's advance man had to carry a “By order of the Secretary of War” letter to deal with segregationists that wouldn't rent rooms to the company.

It served as a small first step in convincing America that an Army unit, albeit an unconventional one, could be racially integrated.
posted by zachlipton at 11:28 PM on February 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


As for the key players in the case, Linwood Shull [the sheriff responsible] remained in Batesburg, South Carolina and died at the age of 95 in December 1997.

I wonder if he was a racist until the end.
posted by benzenedream at 11:51 PM on February 28, 2016


Linwood Shull testimony
posted by DreamerFi at 12:35 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Linwood Shull testimony linked cuts off only a short way into it- I don't suppose anyone knows of a more complete copy?
posted by Philby at 2:09 AM on February 29, 2016


Thanks so much.
posted by allthinky at 5:06 AM on February 29, 2016


The Linwood Shull testimony linked cuts off only a short way into it

Here, for what it's worth..

Parts 1, 2, 3
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:31 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
posted by signal at 5:37 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I knew about Truman integrating the military but not about Isaac Woodard. I've seen the integration presented as an early example of the triumph against racism, without, of course, the racist tragedy behind it. Thanks for this.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:49 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Honestly, that transcript is like an argument against jury trial; he basically conceded facts that would make him criminally liable in any rational legal system, and he got away with it, despite the judge, because of a jury that didn't care.
posted by Aravis76 at 7:31 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]



However, these events also spurred President Truman to action.


That's a bit of an understatement. Truman was a Southern segregationist. The blinding created an irreconcilable conflict between Truman the Missouri good old boy and Truman the army officer who takes care of his men. This was his damascene moment.
posted by ocschwar at 7:57 AM on February 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Truman the Missouri good old boy

More than that. Truman actually joined the Klan (albeit briefly).
posted by leotrotsky at 8:42 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Interesting story. Thanks.
posted by batou_ at 3:24 PM on February 29, 2016


[One comment deleted; links and/or excerpts are fine, but please don't textdump a wall of copy-pasted text into the thread. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:04 PM on February 29, 2016


Thanks for this.
posted by janell at 11:42 PM on February 29, 2016


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