The Secret of Magic: A bit of book background

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message 1: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Johnson | 13 comments My own “precipitating event”, what really induced me to write The Secret of Magic. was an almost forgotten “incident” that was investigated in South Carolina in 1947 by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Much like my own grandfather, Joe Howard Thurman, Sergeant Isaac Woodard served his country as a soldier in the Army during World War II. Along with approximately 2 and ½ million other black men, he had signed up for the draft soon after Pearl Harbor. He enlisted into a segregated army in 1942 to fight for freedom against the threat of fascist and Nazi domination. At the time he did this, Isaac Woodard, like my grandfather, was effectively denied the right to vote in his home state here in the United States.
Before being honorably discharged from the service in 1946, he had spent the previous fifteen months fighting in the jungles of the Philippines. He was barely 23 years old at the time and he told everybody that the first thing he wanted to do after he got home was to visit his mother in Aiken, South Carolina. With that in mind, and still in uniform, he boarded an interstate bus.
This much is certain; after that testimony varies. What we do know is that he forcibly was taken off the bus by a South Carolina sheriff and his deputy. What happened next became a national tragedy.
Before I continue with Sergeant Woodard’s story perhaps I’d better stop and give some back ground to it. The law firm in my novel is the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which was founded, in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, as the first human rights law firm in the United States. The LDF is justly renowned for having initiated some of the most important Civil Rights litigation in our country, including the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954. Thurgood Marshall went on from his work at the Fund to become the first African American justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. I’ve always admired Justice Marshal. I am not the only one. It is very rare, when I give a talk, that at least one person in the audience does not come up and tell me that he or she became a lawyer because they were inspired by Justice Marshall and what he had done. Among many other things he was the man who hired Constance Baker Motley as the first woman attorney at the Legal Defense Fund. She went on herself to a very distinguished career becoming a borough president in New York City and a federal judge in the state of New York. I remember my editor in New York asking me, if there were actually African American women lawyers in the United States in 1946, the year that Marshall hired her, right out of law school.
There were. Not many of them. But they did exist.
Justice Marshall believed that justice, in order to be justice, must rightfully include all. It certainly included Sergeant Isaac Woodard. Let’s return to his story.
Some contemporary accounts stated that Mr. Woodard was disorderly, that he was intoxicated. There is no proof of either of these allegations. I remember reading, more than once, that the reason he was taken off that bus was that he had offended the white ladies riding with him by taking too long in the segregated colored rest room during a station stopover. Any excuse. Maybe folks in South Carolina were not used to the idea of a black man, in full uniform with bars and many medals on it.
The driver got off the bus, made a call and alerted the authorities to what he considered to be Sergeant Woodard’s bad behavior. When the bus reached the next town, it pulled off the road. A sheriff, Lynwood Shull, and his deputy got on and forcibly removed Sergeant Woodard from it.
It was easy to wrap a book around Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall—even a fictionalized one-- and I had always intended to do this. But ultimately it was Sgt. Woodard’s story that became my book’s soul.
After they removed him from the bus, the sheriff and his deputies marched him to a back alley where they took turns beating him. With nightsticks. When he resisted and insisted that his basic civil rights be respected one of the deputies took up a nightstick and systematically used it to punch out, one by one, both of Isaac Woodard’s eyes. Blinding this man—this soldier—for life.
And not only. These same men—who were supposed to be enforcers of the law-- took him back to a jail cell where they kept him, locked up and without medical attention, for almost a week. After this ordeal, they finally dumped him on the steps of the Coloreds only entrance of the local hospital. By then he was a total amnesiac. A blind amnesiac. He did not know where he was and he could not remember who he was or where he was going.
It was obvious that the men who did this to him—that sheriff, those deputies--living in that place and at that time, believed that they could get away with what they had done. They thought there would be no repercussions.
But there were repercussions. Deep and abiding repercussions. Because, once she located her son, once she found out what had happened to him, Sergeant Isaac Woodard’s mother contacted Thurgood Marshall.
She got herself a lawyer.

message 2: by Martha (new)

Martha Conway | 255 comments Mod
This is a horrifying story, and I can completely understand how it would stay with you, compelling you to write your novel. It's amazing to me that people felt (and they really did) that they could commit such brutality without consequences. It is so important to write these stories — not just the brutality but the consequences, so that we have context for when we need to enforce consequences ourselves.

message 3: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Deborah, this is a fascinating real life story, that is living proof of our frightening history. Maybe we have evolved some. Thanks for sharing with us.

message 4: by Donna (last edited Jun 22, 2018 02:51AM) (new)

Donna Everhart (donnaeverhart) Hello Deborah,

I have to wonder how many stories there are, just like this one. How many times a simple ride somewhere turned into the brutalization of an innocent person, or a murder. There are always mixed accounts. He did this, or he did that. Frustrating. The fear must have been rampant. I think of Emmett Till, all of fourteen. A child.

I am glad you wrote this story, and like Martha says above, I can understand why you would.

I love how you wrote this account - your voice came shining through.

message 5: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Johnson | 13 comments Hi Rebecca,
Thanks so much for your comment. We HAVE evolved, and at times, more than some. It doesn't mean we have to stop or be static but there is no doubt that life is better now than it was for my grandparents.
Thank you for the post!

message 6: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Johnson | 13 comments Hi Donna,
Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm glad you can hear my voice in this.
Best to you,

message 7: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
BTW, Deborah, I would love you to guest blog on my Fearless Female Fridays. Email if you are interested!

message 8: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Johnson | 13 comments Hi Rebecca,
Thank you for this and for participating in this discussion. Will email you later today.

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