Coming to PBS’s American Experience today, Tuesday, March 30:
THE BLINDING OF ISAAC WOODARD
PBS broadcast (March 2021)
A violent instance of white supremacist police brutality serves as a spark to undo Jim Crow.
Sergeant Isaac Woodard served valiantly in WWII, but it was upon his return home that he would face grievous bodily harm that would cost him his eyesight. In 1946, after being honorably discharged from service and traveling home by bus to reunite with his wife, he was forcibly removed from the vehicle by police after an argument with the driver, beaten so severely with billy clubs that he suffered permanent damage to his vision, and arrested and fined for disturbing the peace. After the NAACP learned of the story, they enlisted the efforts of Orson Welles to create public awareness via his popular radio program, eventually succeeding against all odds to locate the perpetrator and to put him on trial. Though the trial ended in acquittal, Woodard’s story had unforeseen impact, awakening a moral mission in both US President Harry S Truman and federal Judge J Waties Waring that would see great strides in civil rights in the 1940s and ’50s, including, ultimately, the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v the Board of Education decision. Though named after Woodard’s case, Jamila Ephron’s film is really about Jim Crow in a much wider sense, and efforts to return the focus to Woodard feel strained at times. Still, the textbook PBS project is informative and sadly all too timely, as recent efforts demonstrate the continued attempts parts of the country have taken to undermine civil rights, particularly voting rights.