Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring

Richard Gergel. FSG/Crichton, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-10789-5
In this enlightening study, judge and historian Gergel illuminates the far-reaching effects of an individual act of cruelty. Gergel lays out the terrible racial logic that led from decorated WWII veteran Isaac Woodard’s innocuous request that the driver of his Greyhound bus allow him a rest stop to him permanently losing his eyesight after South Carolina police chief Lynwood Shull assaulted him with a blackjack in 1946. When NAACP leader Walter White brought Woodard’s case to President Truman’s attention, the latter, aware that this was far from an isolated instance of racist violence, responded: “We have got to do something.” Truman created the first presidential committee on civil rights, whose investigations led, by 1948, to the desegregation of the nation’s armed forces, a crucial precedent to the reforms of the next two decades. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, an all-white jury acquitted Shull; this outcome so appalled the presiding judge, Waties Waring, that he became a civil rights crusader in the heart of the former Confederacy. Gergel’s prose is workmanlike, and he narrates this story in greater detail than some readers may desire, but this is an important work on the prehistory of the civil rights struggle and an insightful account of how a single incident can inspire massive social and political changes. Agent: Lisa Adams, Garamond Agency. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/05/2018
Release date: 01/22/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-250-25126-8
Compact Disc - 978-1-250-31944-9
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