Morrisania/Isaac Woodard Jr.

franklinavenue

This is an extended version of the Instagram post. 

This morning, 71 years ago, a young African-American man woke up in a jail cell in Batesburg, South Carolina blinded from the blows of a blackjack club. The man’s name was Isaac Woodard Jr. February 12, 1946 was supposed to be a celebratory day for Woodward. He had been honorably discharged from the US Army, after three years of service, much of which he spent overseas in New Guinea in the South Pacific. Leaving his base in Georgia, Woodard planned to meet his wife in his hometown of Winnsboro, South Carolina and eventually see his parents Isaac and Eliza, who had moved to 1100 Franklin Avenue in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx.  (Pictured is 1098 Franklin Avenue, as 1100 Frankin Avenue has been torn down and rebuilt.)

On the bus to Winnsboro, Isaac was one of many soldiers aboard. Some of the soldiers were drinking alcohol on the bus. Isaac, who was sober, asked the bus driver to make a stop to use a restroom. The driver snapped at him to sit back in his seat. Woodard retorted “damn it, I’m a man. Talk to me like I am like I am talking to you.”

When the bus entered Batesburg, Isaac Woodard Jr. was forced to leave the bus by the town’s police chief, Linwood Shull. At the police station, he was savagely beaten until he lost sight in both of his eyes. The next morning, he was given perfunctory medical attention and charged with disorderly conduct.

Finally arriving in New York, his family went to the NAACP office and the story became internationally known. For a little while, Woodard was a public figure, representing other African-American veterans who had been beaten, abused and lynched. Orson Welles did radio broadcasts about him. Woody Guthrie and a popular calypso singer wrote songs about Woodard. Boxer Joe Louis offered to train Woodard in restaurant management, a field he was involved in.

Embarrassed by Woodard’s beating and the lack of restitution to Woodard from South Carolina, President Truman ordered the US Army be desegregated. The Civil Rights movement gained new steam but would be set back by the Cold War and McCarthyism. Isaac Woodard Jr. spent the remainder of his life in the Bronx, until he passed away in 1992.

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