Today in history: February 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard Jr., African American World War 2 veteran decorated for courage under fire during service in the Pacific, is beaten by South Carolina police until he’s blind. This is just hours after his honorary discharge from the military. While covered up at first, his case soon became widely known and sparked national outrage, creating an initial spark for the 1950s-60s civil rights and Black freedom movement. While he was still in military uniform on a Greyhound bus from Camp Gordon in Augusta, GA en route to his home, the bus driver cursed Woodard for asking to stop to use the restroom, then pulled the bus over at the next stop and called the police. The Batesburg, SC police beat him, then jailed him and beat him some more to the point of blindness. South Carolina authorities did nothing for 7 months, until Orson Welles, Joe Louis, Count Basie and others started a public outcry.
Woodie Guthrie wrote the song, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard.”
Finally the pressure grew until Federal indictments were issued against the police who beat him, but they were found not guilty by an all-white jury that deliberated for only 30 minutes. Forced to do something, President Truman then signed Executive Order 9981 on July 28, 1948, abolishing racial segregation in the military.
You may ask why I post this on a site about ministry to the homeless. Most of those whom we serve are African American. These events are within the living memory of many of them and within the conscious memory of all of them, having heard the stories from their elders. We need to honor those who have paid the price and understand that integration and civil rights and access to higher education didn’t come about because enlightened, white liberals generously gave them to them. They were paid for with blood.