Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring by Richard Gergel
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux 324 pp.
Sargent Isaac Woodard, who bravely fought bigotry overseas in World War II, returned in 1946 to find it waiting for him in America. On the last leg of his return trip home, on a Greyhound bus, Woodard got into a disagreement with the driver and was eventually thrown off. He was arrested in the backwater of Batesburg, South Carolina, where the police chief viciously beat him with a blackjack and savagely blinded him.
In this important book, Richard Gergel, a federal district court judge in Charleston, South Carolina, tells the terrible story of the attack on Woodard and makes a compelling case for its larger significance. When an all-white jury acquitted the police chief, the injustice reverberated widely. The white judge who presided over the trial, anguished over the outcome, went on to issue sweeping civil rights rulings that began to disassemble racial segregation in South Carolina. President Harry Truman was personally outraged by what happened to Woodard, and it led him to deliver a major speech condemning racism, and to establish the first federal commission on race — whose recommendation led to Truman’s historic desegregation of the armed forces.
With the publication of Gergel’s book, Woodard’s name must now be added to the list of civil rights-era victims that includes Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and the four little girls in the Birmingham church. A reader of Unexampled Courage can only wonder why Woodard is not already famous – and how many other similarly horrible stories from our past have yet to be unearthed and told to a wide audience.