How Orson Welles Nailed a Redneck Cop for Blinding a Black Man
Isaac Woodard didn't know the name of the town where the police chief beat him and crushed his eyeballs, but in 1946 Welles mounted a radio campaign that found both.
Who was the South Carolina cop who beat a black U.S. Army veteran and crushed both his eyeballs in February 1946? As Richard Gergel writes in Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring, Hollywood’s enfant terrible Orson Welles mounted a radio campaign to find out. In the first of his broadcasts, reading from Woodard's affidavit, Welles got some of the facts wrong. (The recording is at the end of this excerpt.) But over the next few weeks the error was corrected and the police chief who blinded Woodard was found.
[On] Sunday, August 25, an exuberant Welles opened his radio broadcast with these dramatic words: “This is Orson Welles speaking. The place was Batesburg. Isaac Woodard thought it happened in Aiken. He was wrong . . . The blame belongs . . . in Batesburg. Batesburg, South Carolina.” Welles then described the work of his investigators in locating a minister and several workmen who had observed the police chief of Batesburg and a highway patrolman pouring “buckets of water over the head and body of a soldier.” Welles reported the officers were “washing away” blood and between each pouring asking the soldier, “Can you see yet?” According to Welles, he simply responded no. That soldier was Isaac Woodard.
But Welles was not finished. He explained that when he brought the Woodard story to national attention, “the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as though it always would be. I promised to get that name, I have it now.” Welles then dramatically disclosed to his national audience the name of Woodard’s attacker: