Woodard’s case gained national recognition as one of several incidents of racial discrimination against black veterans returning from service after World War II.
(February 1946). Isaac Woodard was discharged on February 12, 1946, after four years of active army service. A native of Winnsboro, Woodard was returning from Camp Gordon, Georgia, to his hometown when he got into an argument with the driver of his bus after requesting a stop to use the restroom. When the bus pulled into Batesburg, South Carolina, the driver asked two local police officers to take Woodard into custody for his “very abusive” attitude. Officer Elliot Long and Police Chief Lynwood L. Shull later testified that Woodard was drunk and had resisted arrest for disorderly conduct. In a scuffle with the officers, Woodard had tried to defend himself by taking the chief’s nightstick. “I hit him across the front of the head,” Chief Shull later recalled, “after he attempted to take away my blackjack.”
According to Woodard, he had been trying to explain his argument with the bus driver when the Batesburg officers told him to “shut up” and began beating him with their blackjacks. He admitted having taken Shull’s nightstick in the struggle but said that he had been forced to drop it when the other officer pulled his pistol. Woodard alleged that the officers tried to gouge out his eyes as retribution for his resisting arrest. In court the next day, he denied that he had been drinking or that he had instigated the argument with the bus driver. The court sentenced him to pay a $50 fine or serve thirty days in jail, and then he was taken to the Veterans’ Administration hospital in Aiken, where he was treated for bleeding in both eyeballs and a ruptured cornea in the right eye. The beating left him blind for the remainder of his life.
On learning of the attack on a black veteran, Walter White, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), petitioned President Harry Truman and the Justice Department to redress Woodard’s grievances and pursue criminal charges against the Batesburg officers. A benefit for Woodard, hosted by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, was held in New York City in August. Several entertainers spoke or performed, including Woody Guthrie, who penned and sang “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” for the event.
The Justice Department eventually filed a suit against Chief Lynwood Shull for violating Isaac Woodard’s civil rights, but an all-white federal court jury in Columbia took just thirty minutes to return a verdict of not guilty in November 1946. A civil suit filed the next year was also unsuccessful, but Woodard took the money raised from the benefit concert and moved to New York to start a new life.
Woodard’s case gained national recognition as one of several incidents of racial discrimination against black veterans returning from service after World War II. These incidents and the important contributions of African Americans during the war inspired the NAACP’s “Double V” campaign for victory over oppression abroad and at home at the conclusion of the war.
Hampton, Henry, Steve Fayer, and Sarah Flynn. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s. New York: Bantam, 1990.
O’Brien, Gail Williams. The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post–World War II South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Wynn, Neil A. The Afro-American and the Second World War. Rev. ed. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1993.