About the National Archives

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

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
May 21, 2019 

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for today’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from Judge Richard Gergel about his new book, I’d like to alert you to two other programs coming up soon in this theater.

On Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., Pamela Nadell will be here to tell us about her new book, America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today.

And on Tuesday, May 28, at 7 p.m., Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will discuss Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, his book about the struggle by African Americans for equality after the Civil War.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit its website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

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Countless stories lie within the billions of pages in the National Archives. Some of them are personal—perhaps of interest only to family members—and some have reverberated across our society and had the power to change history.

Sergeant Isaac Woodard’s story is in the second category.

Documents in the Harry Truman Presidential Library and here in previously undisclosed FBI and Department of Justice files helped our author retell that story. The responses to the appalling injustice of Woodard’s beating and blinding led to the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces and the 1954 Brown schools desegregation decision.

In a review in the New York Times, David W. Blight writes, “Gergel’s book is a revealing window into both the hideous racial violence and humiliation of segregation in the period immediately after World War II, and the heroic origins of the legal crusade to destroy Jim Crow.”

In Unexampled Courage, Judge Gergel relates a story of injustice and adds to our knowledge of the civil rights movement in America.

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Richard Gergel is a United States district judge who presides in the same courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina, where Judge J. Waties Waring—one of the central figures of his book—once served. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Judge Gergel earned undergraduate and law degrees from Duke University. He was in private practice in Columbia before being nominated to the Federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2009. With his wife, Dr. Belinda Gergel, he is the author of a previous book, In Pursuit of the Tree of Life: A History of the Early Jews of Columbia, South Carolina. Judge Gergel and his work have been featured on PBS, NPR, and in the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other outlets.  

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Richard Gergel.