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Isaac Woodard and the Path to Desegregation

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Lesson plans and resources to teach this important story in American History and the Civil Rights Movement.

PBS"s American Experience Film: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard - How A Horrific Incident of Racial Violence Became a Powerful Catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Isaac Woodard, black history, Civil Rights, President Truman, Desegregation, Jim Crow Laws
Isaac Woodard

PBS's American Experience has a fantastic new documentary film streaming on the PBS App, website and local PBS television stations, that should be mandatory viewing for all high school students. The Blinding of Isaac Woodard. (Click for link to streaming website information.) It is also available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime for a fee.

Here is a short preview:

High School level Lesson plans from the Truman Presidential Library to use prior to viewing:

High school teachers can use this two day lesson plan provided by the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum to introduce the topic. Titled - Orson Welles and the Story of Isaac Woodard: The Influence of the Media on Presidential Awareness and Decisions, these two, 50 minutes lessons incorporate both primary and secondary documents. Here is a quick list of the documents provided;

Secondary materials: Isaac Woodard (1919-1992) - Review of the Woodard Attack - “Orson Welles Sought Justice After Black Veteran Isaac Woodard Beaten, Blinded by Police 70 Years Ago” by Mike Teal - A recap of the role of Orson Welles and his role in broadcasting the story of Isaac Woodard. -

Primary sources: Orson Welles - 7/28/1946 - Radio Broadcast over the blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard Executive Order 9808 - Harry S. Truman - Order to Create a Commission on Civil Rights Picture of Isaac Woodard in 1946 - Video of President Truman telling the story of Isaac Woodard -

In addition I have provided some further resources for you to use to share this story with your students.

Book and Article Resources:

Summary: "How the blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard changed the course of America’s civil rights history

On February 12, 1946, Sergeant Isaac Woodard, a returning, decorated African American veteran, was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg, South Carolina, after he challenged the bus driver’s disrespectful treatment of him. Woodard, in uniform, was arrested by the local police chief, Lynwood Shull, and beaten and blinded while in custody.

President Harry Truman was outraged by the incident. He established the first presidential commission on civil rights and his Justice Department filed criminal charges against Shull. In July 1948, following his commission’s recommendation, Truman ordered an end to segregation in the U.S. armed forces. An all-white South Carolina jury acquitted Shull, but the presiding judge, J. Waties Waring, was conscience-stricken by the failure of the court system to do justice by the soldier. Waring described the trial as his “baptism of fire,” and began issuing major civil rights decisions from his Charleston courtroom, including his 1951 dissent in Briggs v. Elliott declaring public school segregation per se unconstitutional. Three years later, the Supreme Court adopted Waring’s language and reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education. Richard Gergel’s Unexampled Courage details the impact of the blinding of Sergeant Woodard on the racial awakening of President Truman and Judge Waring, and traces their influential roles in changing the course of America’s civil rights history."

Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard - paper from 2002 American Studies Association conference

Video Resources:

Here is a video from a panel discussion about the PBS American Experience The Blinding of Isaac Woodward documentary held by the Truman Library Institute, moderated by Michele Norris, a current columnist with The Washington Post. Jamila Ephron—co-writer, director, and producer of the documentary—and Kari Frederickson—a professor of history at The University of Alabama and a featured historian in the documentary film. (1:14:36)

Here is a video produced in 2016 that is shorter, yet still tells the story of Isaac Woodard. It would be appropriate for children in middle grades.

AAHIAH Episode #16: “THE ISAAC WOODARD STORY” - (21:23) - African American History Is AMERICAN History channel episode.

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