Veterans Day legislation targets GI Bill racial inequities

A group of Democratic legislators is renewing an effort to pay Black veterans who fought for the nation in World War II benefits that they were denied or prevented by their families when they returned from war.

Veterans Day legislation targets GI Bill racial inequities

A group of Democratic legislators is renewing an effort to pay Black veterans who fought for the nation in World War II benefits that they were denied or prevented by their families when they returned from war.

This new legislation would be beneficial to the surviving spouses of Black WWII veterans and all living descendants. They were denied the opportunity for wealth building through housing and education benefits under the GI Bill.

These benefits have been available to millions of veterans who are now able to transition to civilian life since 1944. Many Black WWII veterans were denied these benefits due to discrimination and racism in the way they were granted by local Veterans Affairs offices. This resulted in them receiving significantly less money for home ownership or education.

The House version was presented by Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's Democratic majority whip, as well as Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts.

Clyburn, who introduced the bill last week, stated that "This is an American opportunity to repair an egregious error." "It can help to break the cycle poverty among the people who are descendants of those who gave their lives to save this democracy," Clyburn said.

Moulton, a Marine veteran, stated that he served four tours in the Iraq War. "There are many Black Americans feeling the effects today of this injustice, even though it was perpetrated 70 year ago."

He stated, "I believe that restoring GI Bill Benefits is one of the most important racial Justice issues of our times."

Sen. Rev. was scheduled to introduce a Senate bill later in the month. Raphael Warnock, a Georgian citizen and the son of a WWII veteran.

Warnock stated that "we've all seen how inequities have been trickling down over time," and added that the bill "represents an important step towards righting this injustice."

Moulton authored the legislation that would provide educational assistance and VA Loan Guaranty Program support to Black WWII veterans who were alive at the time the bill was enacted. The bill would also establish a panel to examine inequalities in the distribution of benefits to people of color and women.

Lawrence Brooks is 112 years old and the oldest U.S. veteran. He was drafted during WWII to serve in the mostly-Black 91st Engineer General Service Regiment.

He is a Louisiana native with 12 grandchildren and 23 great grand-grandchildren. His daughter, Vanessa Brooks, stated that he believed that his only way to leave his past as a sharecropper's son was by serving his country.

After being discharged as a private first-class in August 1945, he didn't realize his dream to go to college. Instead, he worked as a forklift driver until he retired in his 60s. His daughter stated that he had always wanted to go school.

He used his retirement fund to buy his house, and not GI Bill benefits. She said

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen's Readjustment Act. This Act provided generous financial assistance to 16 million WWII vets who were pursuing higher education or buying their first homes. The benefits were available to all veterans who served more that 90 days in wartime and were discharged with an honorable discharge, regardless of their race.

After the war, Black and White veterans had to face two different realities.

Veterans faced problems because the GI Bill benefits needed to be approved locally by VA officers who were few and far between. This was especially true in the Deep South, where Jim Crow segregation created racist barriers to homeownership.

There were two options: Black veterans could not access benefits, or they reduced their value. They were directed away from four-year colleges that are predominantly white and steered them towards vocational programs and other non-degree programs. The enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities in the country saw a dramatic increase among Black veterans, which forced them to reject tens of thousands of potential students.

Sgt. Joseph Maddox, one the two WWII vets Moulton and Clyburn named their bills after, was denied tuition aid by his local VA office, despite being accepted to a Harvard University master's program.

Moulton said that the government refused to pay the bill when it was time. He attended Harvard while on the GI Bill. It is quite emotional for vets who have been through it and know how much the GI Bill has made in their lives.

The bill also bears the name of Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr., was a WWII vet from Winnsboro, South Carolina, and was brutally beat and blinded in 1946 by a small-town chief police officer. An all-white jury acquitted his attacker, which helped to encourage the United States' integration in 1948.

Contrary to how Black veterans were treated, the GI Bill helped white veterans to own their homes in a postwar boom. This created a ripple effect that their grandchildren and children continue to benefit.

According to an Ebony magazine survey, of the over 3,000 VA home loans issued in Mississippi to veterans in July 1947, only two were granted to Black veterans.

Federal Housing Administration's racist housing policies had a negative impact on Black WWII veterans. This undoubtedly contributed to today's racial wealth disparity. Redlining is a term that describes how banks and realtors refuse to offer mortgages or show homes to qualified buyers in certain neighborhoods.

Maria Madison, Director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University who has studied the effects of racial inequities on the administration of GI Bill Benefits, said that preliminary analysis of historical data shows that Black and White veterans accessed their benefits at the same rates.

Because of institutional racism and other obstacles, Black veterans had fewer options for how they could use their benefits. Their cash equivalent was 40% less than what white veterans got.

Madison estimates that after adjusting for inflation, market returns and other factors, the difference in value is $170,000 per veteran. Madison's ongoing research aims to determine the dollar value of wealth lost to Black families by racism and GI Bill inequities.

Matthew Delmont, a Dartmouth College history professor, stated that black WWII veterans who had full access to GI Bill benefits were able to build good lives for their families and themselves. He said that it is clear evidence why new legislation is needed.

Delmont stated that the GI benefits were not distributed equally among Black veterans. This led to the loss of a whole generation of wealth-builders from Black America. "We could have had more doctors, lawyers and teachers after the war," Delmont said.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree was a Black woman and WWII veteran who attended Howard University's Law School with GI Bill benefits. After graduating from Howard University, she became a well-known Washington criminal defense lawyer who played an important role in desegregating bus travel.

Robert Madison, a WWII veteran who served as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army was credited for his success as a renowned architect.

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