Judge Richard Gergel Discusses His Book “Unexampled Courage” at Charleston Author Series Luncheon May 17

“How A Long-Forgotten Act Of Police Brutality Transformed A Federal Judge, U.S. President And Civil Rights In America” was the title of WBUR’s coverage of Judge Richard Gergel’s book Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring.

Judge Gergel will discuss the book May 17 with guests at a Blue Bicycle Books Charleston Author Series Luncheon at Halls Signature Events, 5 Faber Street in downtown Charleston. Halls Signature Events is located just behind S.N.O.B just off East Bay Street.

The three-course luncheon and author introduction is only $32 or $61 which will include a personally signed book from Richard Gergel.

On February 12, 1946, Sergeant Isaac Woodard, a returning, decorated African American veteran, was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg, South Carolina, after he challenged the bus drivers disrespectful treatment of him. Woodard, in uniform, was arrested by the local police chief, Lynwood Shull, and beaten and blinded while in custody.

President Harry Truman was outraged by the incident. He established the first presidential commission on civil rights and his Justice Department filed criminal charges against Shull. In July 1948, following his commissions recommendation, Truman ordered an end to segregation in the U.S. armed forces.

An all-white South Carolina jury acquitted Shull, but the presiding judge, J. Waties Waring, was conscience-stricken by the failure of the court system to do justice by the soldier. Waring described the trial as his baptism of fire, and began issuing major civil rights decisions from his Charleston courtroom, including his 1951 dissent in Briggs v. Elliott declaring public school segregation per se unconstitutional.

Three years later, the Supreme Court adopted Waring’s language and reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education. Richard Gergel’s Unexampled Courage details the impact of the blinding of Sergeant Woodard on the racial awakening of President Truman and Judge Waring, and traces their influential roles in changing the course of Americas civil rights history.

Judge Richard Gergel

Richard Gergel is a United States district judge who presides in the same courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina, where Judge Waring once served. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Judge Gergel earned undergraduate and law degrees from Duke University. With his wife, Dr. Belinda Gergel, he is the author of In Pursuit of the Tree of Life: A History of the Early Jews of Columbia, South Carolina.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Gergel earned a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University in 1975 and a Juris Doctor from Duke University School of Law in 1979. Gergel’s cousin was well known industrial chemist Max Gergel, President/CEO of the Columbia Organic Chemical Company, or COCC.

From 1979 until 1980, Gergel served as a law clerk for a law firm in Columbia, South Carolina, and he was a partner with the firm from 1981 until 1982. Beginning in 1983, and continuing until his nomination to the district court, he was the president and partner with his own law firm (most recently known as Gergel, Nickles and Solomon) in Columbia.

Gergel was the attorney representing the South Carolina Education Association and public school teacher Maggi Hall when her First Amendment Rights were denied her by her Superintendent William Foil of Mullins SC. The case went to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond VA and was considered one of the most important First Amendment cases to come down from the 4th Circuit in over a decade.

On December 22, 2009, President Obama nominated Gergel to serve on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, to fill the seat vacated by Judge Henry Michael Herlong, Jr., who assumed senior status on June 1, 2009.

Richard Gergel was a presiding judge on the trial of Dylann Roof, who was convicted of 33 federal charges relating to the Charleston church shooting. Roof was convicted on all charges and controversially represented himself during the sentencing phase despite Gergel warning Roof it wasn’t in his best interests to do so. On January 11, 2017 he sentenced Roof to death after the jury recommended the death penalty the previous day.

Gergel is the author of Unexampled Courage and, with Belinda Gergel, of In Pursuit of the Tree of Life: A History of the Early Jews of Columbia, South Carolina (1996).

Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and lunch is served at noon. Limited seating provides an intimate experience with the author. In addition to three creative courses by Halls Executive Chef Matt Greene, the cash bar will feature specialty cocktails and wines.

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