[b.1919 - d.1992]
[The very faded photo below is of Woodard and his mother]
On February 13, 1946, U.S. Army Sergeant Isaac Woodard Jr. was on a Greyhound Lines bus traveling from Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, headed home to his family in North Carolina. En route to Winnsboro, South Carolina, Woodward asked the bus driver to make a rest stop, which the driver grudgingly did so after an argument with Woodard. The bus stopped in Batesburg (now Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina).
In an analysis of the case, attorney and author Michael R. Gardner wrote, "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." What was revealed is that during the course of the night in jail, Shull blinded Woodard, smashing in one of his eyes with a nightstick and gouging the other out. Woodard also suffered partial amnesia as a result of the injuries.
The following morning, the police sent him before the local judge, who promptly found him guilty and fined him fifty dollars. Upon requesting medical assistance, it took two days for a doctor to be sent to him. Not knowing where he was and still suffering from amnesia, Woodard ended up in a hospital in Aiken, South Carolina, receiving substandard medical care.
Three weeks after he was reported missing by his relatives, he was discovered in the hospital. Woodard was immediately rushed to an Army hospital in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Though his memory had begun to recover by that time, doctors found both his corneas damaged beyond repair.
Though the case wasn't reported much in the early days following the attack, it was soon covered in major newspapers around the nation. The NAACP publicized Woodard's plight, campaigning heavily for the state government of South Carolina to address the issue, which it frequently dismissed.
However, the news soon also emerged in popular culture. Via his radio show, broadcaster and movie celebrity Orson Welles soon began to crusade for the punishment of Shull and his accomplices. Welles, a follower of the civil rights movement, found the reaction of the South Carolina government to be intolerable and shameful.
Later that year, folk artist Woody Guthrie would record a song for his album The Great Dust Storm entitled "The Blinding of Isaac Woodard", saying 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...." Guthrie later said of the song, "I sung this Isaac Woodard song 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. This song is a long song, but most of the action is told in Isaac's own words. I made this ballad up because we'll need lots of songs like this one before we win our fight for racial equality in our big free United States."
A short investigation ensued, and on October 2nd, Shull and several of his officers were indicted in the U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina. The case was brought into the Federal level on the grounds that the beating had occurred at a bus stop on Federal property, and that at the time of the assault, Woodward was in uniform. 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 would later write of his disgust of 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 the Defense side, the behavior was no better. When the defense attorney began to shout racial epithets at Woodard, Waring had it stopped immediately. During the trial, the defense attorney also stated to the jury that "if you rule against Shull, then let this South Carolina secede again." Furthermore, after Woodard had given his account of what happened, Shull firmly denied this, claiming that Woodard had threatened him with a gun, and that Shull had used his nightclub to defend himself. During this testimony, Shull admitted that he repeatedly struck Woodard in the eyes.
On November 5th, after thirty minutes of deliberation, Shull was found innocent on all charges despite his admission that he had blinded Woodard. The courtroom broke into applause immediately thereafter.
In July 1948, over the objection of senior military officers, Truman promulgated Executive Order 9981, banning racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces. This was done as a response to a number of incidents against black veterans, most notably the Woodard case.
The failure to convict Shull was seen as a failure on the part of the Truman Administration.
Michael R Gardner, 'Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks'
The Stan Iverson Memorial Library, Infoshop & Anarchist Archives
For more information on this story: http://faculty.uscupstate.edu/amyers/conference.html