Crime History, Feb. 13, 1946: Police beating, blinding of black veteran leads to integration of military

On this day, Feb. 13, in 1946, black U.S. Army veteran Isaac Woodard Jr. was permanently blinded by a police beating in South Carolina, an attack that ultimately led to the integration of the military.

Isaac Woodard Jr. was blinded by police in South Carolina.

World War II veteran Isaac Woodard Jr. was blinded by South Carolina police while returning home from military service.

Woodard, a decorated sergeant in World War II, had been honorably discharged from the Army just 10 hours earlier. At the time, black and white soldiers were not allowed to serve together.

Woodard hopped on a bus from Camp Gordon in Georgia home to his family in North Carolina.

Woodard, 27, was still in uniform on his way home when he got into a verbal dispute with a bus driver. The bus stopped in Batesburg, S.C., where Woodard was confronted by police. He was taken to a nearby alley, where the officers beat him repeatedly with nightsticks.

Woodard was then taken to the town jail, where he was beaten so severely that he lost sight in both eyes. He was blind for life.

The case wasn’t publicized at first, but it eventually made its way into the major newspapers around the country.

Orson Welles campaigned to have the police chief and his officers punished. Woodie Gutherie wrote a song called, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard.”

When President Harry Truman heard Woodard’s story, he ordered the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.

The police chief  was tried for Woodard’s assault but acquitted by an all-white jury in 28 minutes. The courtroom broke into applause at the ruling.

Because of the attack on Woodard and others like it, Truman created the first commission on civil rights in 1946.

The civil rights commission led to Truman issuing an executive order that integrated the military.

— Scott McCabe



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