Decorated Black Soldier Isaac Woodard Helped Integrate the Military After Attack in Jim Crow South Blinded Him
Isaac Woodard was a decorated Black Soldier Who Served in World War II. In the Jim Crow South he was beaten and blinded while in uniform.
Isaac Woodard Jr. was a decorated Black World War II veteran whose brutal beating by police in the Jim Crow South left him blind. The young sergeant was on his way home from serving overseas in 1946 when he was thrown off a Greyhound bus and arrested.
South Carolina authorities attacked him so severely his eyes were gouged out by a club with nails attached to it. The news of his suffering sparked national outrage, led to the integration of the U.S. military and lit a fire under the civil rights movement in America.
Now his great-niece, Laura Williams, hopes to share his story with a younger generation. She’s written a new children’s book, “I Am Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr.: How My Story Changed America.”
“His blindness allowed us to see," she told Inside Edition Digital.
He enlisted at the age of 23. "His unit was strictly African American," Williams said. "It was segregation the entire time. There was no desegregation yet."
On the night he was attacked, Woodard "took a Greyhound bus heading back to Georgia, home to his new wife and family. And that trip changed his life forever," said Williams.
At "one particular stop, Sgt. Woodard asked to use the restroom," she said. "He went to the driver to ask if it's OK for him to use the restroom. And of course, he's leaving from the back of the bus, right, because of course it's segregation.
"And the bus driver just dismissed his request and spoke to him in a very disrespectful manner. He basically told Sgt. Woodard, 'Go sit down. Go back and sit down,'" she continued.
That did not over well with the decorated, newly discharged soldier who had risked his life to defend his country, albeit it a segregated one.
"He says, 'Listen, I just fought for this country. Speak to me as a man, as I'm speaking to you. I think I deserve respect.' And of course, he had his full uniform on, so there was no question of who he was or where he came from, or what he represented," Williams said.
Woodard used the facilities, and the bus ride went on.
"In South Carolina, during another stop, the driver summoned two police officers who were nearby, and brought them back on the bus and told him that Woodard was drunk and disorderly. Which was not the case," she said. "They escorted him off the bus. And shortly after that, they began to beat him. And they beat him so severely that they blinded him."
He ended up in the hospital, where he spent the following two months. His blindness was permanent, he was told. And so there he was, a blind 27-year-old veteran with a future that was quite literally dark.
His sisters brought him to New York, and things began to change.
"News spread quickly around the country. And the NAACP came to his aid. And they rallied around him, and they knew that he wasn't able to receive veteran's benefits. So they decided to hold a benefit concert for him to raise funds to help support him," Williams said.
The performers included Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, the notable jazz pianist Count Basie and boxer Joe Lewis. "They agreed to be a part of this benefit. And they sold tickets. And the tickets sold out in one day," she said.
"So he began to tour the country. And he went from place to place and told everyone his story, and explained to him about the inequities of African Americans and police brutality," Williams said. President Harry S Truman was outraged. "And President Truman then decided to desegregate the armed forces. So because of Isaac's story, the armed forces were desegregated."
His amazing journey became family lore.
"I remember my dad telling me about how much mail [Woodard] would receive from people around the world. He received so many letters," Williams said. "He was a wonderful man. He was a very loving relative. He ended up taking things in stride. He didn't become bitter over the long haul. He dealt with it, and he made the best out of his life," she said.
Williams adored him. "I wanted to write the book to pay homage and honor to my Uncle Isaac and the legacy. "We have to teach the children... how we can change things now and live in a better world."
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