Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard

Conference Paper
Discussion Board




In 1946, an African American World War II veteran named Isaac Woodard was blinded in a small South Carolina town. The recently-discharged sergeant had talked back to a white bus driver. For this behavior the police beat him, gouged his eyes with a blackjack, and threw him into jail without medical treatment. The twenty-seven-year-old man suffered permanent loss of vision. A local lawman was tried on federal charges for the assault, but was acquitted by an all-white jury. This episode was but one example of the treatment many black veterans suffered in communities across the American South.

The Woodard case differed from most, however, in that it grew from a personal tragedy and local incident to an event that spread beyond the state, across the nation, and around the world. It undermined American efforts against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. It led Truman to issue his order to integrate the armed forces and influenced the 1948 presidential election. It helped dramatically to reshape the political landscape of South Carolina. It even played an important, but little-known part in the Brown decision. The story is a compelling one not only for the visceral horror that it evoked, but the unexpected ways it reverberated at multiple levels.

Visitors to this page are encouraged to reflect upon those local-global connections as they view the individuals, state/region, national, and international sources. The paper provides additional context. The questions are intended to provoke thoughts, which visitors are invited to share on the discussion board. Questions and comments from here will serve as the basis for continued conversations at the conference.

NOTE:   All material on this site is intended for use by participants at the 2002 American Studies Association conference and is for educational purposes only.

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Picture Credits:
Water picture from   FreeFoto.Com

Isaac Woodard picture from Speak Now Against the Day by John Egerton. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

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