1946 February 12

Isaac Woodard, African-American Veteran, Beaten, Blinded in South Carolina; Incident Provokes National Outrage

 

Hours after being discharged from the Army following World War II, Sgt. Isaac Woodward was taken from a bus in Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, beaten and blinded by police and then jailed. Reports of the brutal incident aroused national outrage. The famed film director Orson Welles discussed it on his radio show, Orson Welles Commentaries on July 26th.

The famed folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote and recorded a song entitled, The Blinding of Isaac Woodard. (Woodard’s name is sometimes erroneously spelled Woodward.) The famous folk singer Woody Guthrie composed a song about Woodard in his honor. The lyrics are included in the book Woody Guthrie, Born to Win, pp. 229-231. (Whether there is any surviving recording of the song is not clear.)

The incident was reported to President Harry Truman by NAACP leaders in a meeting at the White House on September 19, 1946. Truman was shocked and both opened a Justice Department nvestigation into the case and promised to create what would become the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, the first national civil rights commission. The Committee issued its report, To Secure These Rights, on October 29, 1947. Truman then took further actions in support of civil rights. He delivered a civil rights legislative program to Congress on February 2, 1948, and even more important, on July 26, 1948 issued an executive order desegregating the U.S. armed forces. Truman’s actions have been overshadowed by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, but he was the first civil rights president in modern times.

Listen to a version of The Blinding of Isaac Woodard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A7A5VGjSFk

Read the report of Truman’s Civil Rights Committee, “To Secure These Rights”: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/civilrights/srights1.htm

Learn more: Steven F. Lawson, To Secure These Rights: The Report of Harry S Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights (2004)

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