A South Carolina town has honored the memory of a black WWII veteran whose 1946 beating at the hands of a white police chief left him permanently blind and helped spur President Harry Truman's drive to integrate the U.S. military.
Distinguished guests and members of Sgt. Isaac Woodard's family gathered Saturday for a private ceremony before moving to the narrow streets of small-town Batesburg-Leesville for the unveiling of the "Blinding of Isaac Woodard" historical marker, which is located at the site of the old police station where the beating occurred.
Inside the intimate gathering of about 80 guests, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr. and other officials sat among family members and heard about the lasting impact Woodard's tragic encounter with an officer decades ago has left on the town and family members.
Hours after being honorably discharged from the Army in February 1946, Woodard was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg and beaten by the town's white police Chief Lynwood Shull.
Woodard, 26, was still in his uniform.
Police officers accused and arrested Woodard for drunken and disorderly conduct.
The attack drew the attention of the NAACP, whose representatives met with Truman to discuss the treatment of African-American soldiers returning home after war.
After little was done following Woodard's beating, federal prosecutors charged Shull with violating the decorated former soldier's civil rights, but Shull was later found not guilty by an all-white jury.
Woodard eventually went back home to New York, where he spent the remainder of his life until his passing in 1992.
Robert Young, Woodard's 81-year-old nephew, said his uncle rarely spoke about the incident, and said their relationship grew closer as he worked alongside him in the following years up until his passing.
"You'll always be an inspiration to many around the nation," Young said of his uncle with tears in his eyes. "But most of all, you will always be my uncle."
Isaac Woodard's criminal charges were dismissed last year. A portion of the marker is engraved in Braille.