Little Bits of History

Shameful

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 12, 2015
Isaac Woodard  after the incident

Isaac Woodard after the incident

February 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard steps off the bus. Isaac was born in South Carolina but grew up in Goldsboro, North Carolina where he attended local segregated schools. At the age of 23 he enlisted in the US Army on October 14, 1942. He served in the Pacific Theater in a labor battalion as a longshoreman and was promoted to sergeant. He earned a battle star for unloading ships under fire as well as a Good Conduct Medal and the Service medal, and World War II Victory Medal awarded to all American participants. On this day, he was traveling from Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia where he had been honorably discharged, back to his home in North Carolina.

Still in uniform, the young black man asked for a chance to use a restroom when the bus stopped outside Augusta. The driver argued with the Sergeant but then granted the request. Woodard returned to his seat and the bus departed. The next stop was in Batesburg (now Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina) near Aiken. Woodard had caused no disruption but the driver contacted the local police including the Chief of Police, Linwood Shull. They forcibly removed Woodard from the bus and demanded to see his discharge papers. Then, several police drug him to an alley where they beat him unmercifully using their nightsticks. He was taken to jail and charged with disorderly conduct and accused of drinking beer in the bus with other soldiers.

During his night in jail, Shull continued to beat the war veteran. He suffered partial amnesia due to the beatings. He was also blinded. Woodard testified that he was punched several times in the eyes and repeatedly jabbed in the eyes with a billy club. Newspaper accounts said his eyes were gouged out. Historical documents state each globe was ruptured irreparably in the socket. The next morning he was brought to court and a local judge found him guilty and fined him $50. He requested medical assistance but it was days before he was taken to a hospital in Aiken. Three weeks later, relatives finally found him in the hospital and he was rushed to an US Army hospital in Spartansburg, SC but his vision was beyond repair. Some of his memory did return.

The nation was outraged and the NAACP publicized the atrocity. Orson Welles crusaded for punishment for Shull and his accomplices. More big names joined in the cry for justice. Nothing happened. On September 19, 1946, seven months later, NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White met with President Harry S Truman to discuss the case. Finally Shull and several others were indicted in US District Court in Columbia, SC where Judge Julius Waties Waring presided. The case was a travesty and Shull was found not guilty by an all-white jury on all charges even though he had admitted he blinded Woodard. Because blacks could not vote in South Carolina at the time, they could also not sit on juries. Woodard moved to New York City where he lived until his death in 1992 at the age of 73.

In none of the papers is there any suggestion there was verbal or physical violence on the part of Sergeant Woodard. It’s quite unclear what really happened. What did happen with certainty is the next morning when the sun came up, Sergeant Isaac Woodard was blind for life. – Michael R. Gardner

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. – Harry S Truman speaking on Civil Rights

I sung ‘The Blinding of Isaac Woodard’ in the Lewisohn Stadium one night for more than 36,000 people, and I got the loudest applause I’ve ever got in my whole life. – Woody Guthrie

I was shocked by the hypocrisy of my government…in submitting that disgraceful case. – Judge Julius Waties Waring

Also on this day: Nine Days of Rule – In 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed.
NAACP – In 1909, the NAACP was formed.
Going Metric – In 1973, the first metric road sign in the US was erected.
Honor – In 1914, groundbreaking for the Lincoln Memorial took place.
Avoiding a Stall Unsuccessfully – In 2009, Colgan Flight 3407 crashed.

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2 Responses

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  1. Sherry said, on February 13, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Wow. This is the kind of over-the-top bigotry and injustice that makes me ashamed to be a white American.

    In his entire life, Sgt. Woodard never brought suit against the city/county/state where he was so brutally beaten and blinded? And Shull was never again tried under a different statute, such as a civil rights violation? OMG – why??? Unbelievable!

    I am sick to my stomach thinking about what Sgt. Woodard suffered and how it permanently affected the rest of his life.

    If there is a hell, I hope it’s where Shull now resides. And I also hope that each and every piece of sewer scum involved in this farce – from the judge who fined Woodard $50 and obviously ignored his severe injuries to the jurors who acquitted Shull – felt pangs of guilt each day for the remainder of their lives

    • patriciahysell said, on February 13, 2015 at 10:33 am

      This was so difficult to write. I can’t believe one human being could do this to another. And then gloat. There are times, even when it is hard to do, that I share stories like these. I believe Sgt. Woodard’s plight needs to be remembered and this must never happen again. In light of recent events, I believe this story is even more important to tell.


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