February 12, 1946: Isaac Woodard, a World War II veteran, is beaten by police.

Sergeant Isaac Woodard was an African-American soldier who had served in the Pacific Theater before being honorably discharged at the end of the war. He had been traveling on a bus from Augusta, Georgia to North Carolina, where his family lived, but his trip soon became much more than the average family visit. Exact details of the event are difficult to ascertain because of conflicting newspaper accounts and the victim’s own partial amnesia following the event, but the confrontation that took place in an alley in South Carolina on February 12, 1946, was nevertheless one immortalized by history as a case of extreme and vile injustice - the beating and blinding and permanent maiming by his own countrymen of a man who had emerged mostly unscathed from serving his country in war.  

Outside of Augusta, Woodard briefly argued with the driver of his bus, requesting that the bus make a stop so that he could use the restroom; Woodard was let off the bus after the short quarrel and let back on, the problem seemingly resolved. Shortly afterward, however, the bus driver stopped in a town in South Carolina where he contacted the local police, who arrested Woodard for causing “a disturbance” on the bus. After answering “yes” to the policemens’ inquiries rather than “yes, sir”, Woodard was struck in the face with a weapon. In a few moments, the policemen were beating Woodard with their clubs, and sometime during this beating, Woodard’s eyeballs were ruptured. Although newspaper headlines announced that policemen had “gouged” out Woodard’s eyes, it is more likely that repeated blows to his head had simply damaged his eyes to a point beyond repair, although he himself testified specifically that the policemen had aimed for his eyes with their clubs.Woodard spent the following night in jail, suffering from amnesia, and when he woke up, he was completely and permanently blind. 

Violence against and the mistreatment of black veterans was not an uncommon occurrence in the years following World War II. The cases of Woodard and other Americans like him helped lead to Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the armed forces. Unfortunately, the trial set up for Woodard’s attackers was a complete failure. Despite having admitted during the trial that he had purposely aimed for, with intent to damage, Woodard’s eyes, the Chief of Police was found not guilty on all charges, and the verdict was received by the courtroom enthusiastically. Woodard was not without his supporters however, chiefly the NAACP and affiliates and notably Orson Welles.

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