Civil-rights historians tell little-known story of WWII vet
Hours after leaving military service behind in 1946, a decorated black World War II veteran still wearing his uniform was removed from a Greyhound bus while heading home, beaten by a white South Carolina police chief and left permanently blind.
Sgt. Isaac Woodard’s brutal encounter with the small-town police official horrified many Americans and prompted cries for justice on behalf of the 26-year-old former soldier. His case even helped spur President Harry Truman’s drive to integrate the U.S. military beginning in 1948.
Now, Woodard’s supporters are seeking to erect a civil-rights marker honoring him in the town where he was attacked, saying his ferocious beating helped draw U.S. attention to the discrimination and mistreatment of blacks returning home from war.
He deserves recognition for his place in the struggle for civil rights, they say.
Historians say Woodard’s case – and the outcry it prompted – drove the first cracks into American segregation years ahead of the civil-rights era.
“Isaac Woodard was the example of how horrible things were for black Americans, particularly for those coming home” after World War II, said historian Michael Gardner and an expert on the Truman administration.
Woodard lived in the Bronx, New York, for the remainder of his life and died in 1992 at age 73.
His supporters now want to erect an historical marker in Woodard’s honor in Batesburg-Leesville, a community of about 5,000 people west of Columbia where Woodard was assaulted.