Remembering Isaac Woodard; the WWII veteran who was beaten and blinded by a white police chief

Mohammed Awal Feb 18, 2020 at 02:00pm

February 18, 2020 at 02:00 pm | History

Mohammed Awal

Mohammed Awal

February 18, 2020 at 02:00 pm | History

Image: Times

Sergeant Isaac Woodard was a decorated African-American World War II veteran, who was a member of the 429th Port Battalion.

The 429th Port Battalion was shipped out in October 1944 for New Guinea during the World War II and Woodard served as a longshoreman.

Part of a segregated support unit in the campaign to recapture the New Guinea Island from Japanese Army, Woodard came face to face to intense shelling as they load and unload military ships in the Pacific.

Amidst the frightening enemy firepower, Woodard who would later be subjected to brutish beatings after his honorable discharge, showed class and leadership, winning promotions to the rank of a corporal and later sergeant.

Following the recapture of the Island, the Army demobilized. Woodard whose stellar show during the war fetched him the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal was given an honorable discharge notice and traveled from Manila to the United States by troopship.

Woodard arrived in New York on January 15, 1946. While traveling home to Winnsboro, South Carolina from Fort Gordon, Ga in February 1946 on a bus, Woodard and the driver got involved in a quarrel. 

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According to reports, Woodard requested a restroom break which the driver declined. Even though what happened on the bus is still a mystery, the dispute over restroom break led the driver to call the police when the bus made a stop in Batesburg, 35 miles southwest of Columbia.

The police ordered Woodard off the bus.

According to Batesburg-Leesville, even before Woodard address what happened on the bus, he was struck with a nightstick by officers. The initial beating and subsequent ones while in custody left Woodard blind in both eyes. 

It was reported that the police chief, Lynwood Shull used the ends of his blackjack to jam Woodard’s eyes and at one point striking him so violently that the stick broke.

Woodard was arraigned before the court the next day and charged with “drunk and disorderly.” He was ordered to pay a fine, spending more than three weeks in an Aiken hospital recovering from his injuries.

The Blinding of Isaac Woodard historical marker was dedicated in Batesburg-Leesville, S.C., on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. The bottom portion of the marker is written in Braille. (Christina Myers/AP)

The blinding of Woodard in the February 1946 encounter with the police sparked a series of events culminating in President Harry Truman’s creation of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights – the first national civil rights commission. 

Following the commission’s report in late 1947, President Truman desegregated the U.S. military in July 1948.

More than seven decades after Woodard’s brutal treatment, a marker has been unveiled to honor his memory.

“Here is this hero that so many people have forgotten or didn’t know about,” said Don North, a former Army major from Carrollton, Ga., who spent three years researching and raising money for the marker as reported by the New York Times. “This is about remembering him, what he endured and the legacy he left behind.”

“There were multiple episodes of black veterans abused across the South,” said Judge Richard Gergel, the federal judge who began researching Woodard’s history in 2011. “They were serving their country, fighting for American liberty and freedom and not given liberty and freedom when they came back home.”

According to Robert Young, Woodard’s 81-year-old nephew, his uncle rarely spoke about the incident and said their relationship grew closer as he worked alongside him in the following years up until his passing.

“You’ll always be an inspiration to many around the nation,” Young said of his uncle with tears in his eyes. “But most of all, you will always be my uncle.”

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