Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley discusses civil rights legal champions, including President Truman, who integrated the armed forces while he was president. He also suggests the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd could bring radical changes, just like the vicious beating of WWII veteran Isaac Woodard did in Truman’s time.
The article, A Story of Outrage, Courage and Change, was published in the May 13 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.
In my sophomore year of college, I took a class in black history at UMKC. We had an assignment that we were to interview black men and women about their experiences and attitudes. My father had an office on the third floor of the First National Bank Building, where he operated an insurance agency. I enlisted his help because I was a shy 19-year-old college student.
My dad introduced me to the guard in the lobby of the bank. Although initially reluctant, he turned out to be a very good interviewee. He told me how much President Truman meant to him and other black people. President Truman had died just a few months earlier. I learned in the interview that President Truman was beloved because he had integrated the armed forces while he was president.
Having grown up three blocks from the Truman home where I still live, I remember his walks through our neighborhood. I now wonder what he thought when he walked down Delaware toward the library that bears his name and saw the black neighborhood called “the Neck.” By the time he died, that neighborhood had been demolished through the urban renewal program. Yet he lived a good part of his life a couple of blocks from a black neighborhood. I now wonder how his attitude towards African Americans was changed by the story I am about to tell.
Earlier this week I learned the rest of the story on Truman’s courageous undertaking to integrate the armed forces. The story is told in a book entitled “Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring.” The book was written by a federal judge in South Carolina, Richard Gergel.
I learned about this book from my former law partner, Mike Manners, who is a huge fan of our former president. Mike shared with me a speech on YouTube given by Judge Gergel. Judge Gergel gives us a glimpse of the story of Sgt. Isaac Woodard, an African American veteran who was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg, South Carolina in 1947 after he challenged the bus driver’s treatment of him. Woodward was still in uniform and was a veteran of World War II. He was arrested by the local police chief, Lynwood Shull, and was beaten so badly while in custody that he was blinded.
After hearing the story, Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP who was also a strong supporter of President Truman, sought an audience with the president to talk about taking action on civil rights. Many black men fought in World War II and had made the ultimate sacrifice, so the time was ripe. However, President Truman was reluctant to do anything, especially when he was facing a tough election in 1948.