What do former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford; former Vice President Al Gore; and entertainers Ed McMahon, Clint Eastwood, Johnny Cash and Paul Newman have in common?
They’re also White men. (More on that in a moment.)
The [bill] gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and—most importantly—funding for education.
The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education.
That’s happy talk.
As you can probably guess, those benefits were distributed differently depending on skin color.
Though the bill helped white Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years, it didn’t deliver on that promise for veterans of color. In fact, the wide disparity in the bill’s implementation ended up helping drive growing gaps in wealth, education and civil rights between white and Black Americans.
There were 1.2 million Black veterans.
The program contributed to America’s systemic racism. That was the intent of many Congressmen.
In 1944, House Veterans Committee chair Rep. John Rankin (D-MS) “was known for his virulent racism.”
He defended segregation, opposed interracial marriage, and had even proposed legislation to confine, then deport, every person with Japanese heritage during World War II.
Anti-Federalists/southern slave state leaders like Rankin “insisted that the program be administered by individual states instead of the federal government.” The outcome will not surprise.
Though the GI Bill guaranteed low-interest mortgages and other loans, they were not administered by the VA itself. Thus, the VA could cosign, but not actually guarantee the loans. This gave white-run financial institutions free rein to refuse mortgages and loans to Black people.
Northern universities dragged their feet when it came to admitting Black students, and Southern colleges barred Black students entirely. And the VA itself encouraged Black veterans to apply for vocational training instead of university admission and arbitrarily denied educational benefits to some students.
Researchers have identified how the G.I. Bill “exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites among men from the South.”
For example, Harvard accepted Sgt. Joseph Maddox, a Black veteran. But Veterans Affairs denied his application for GI Bill tuition “to avoid setting a precedent.”
Here are summer 1947 mortgage data from Rankin’s home state, Mississippi. Black borrowers accounted for only two of 3,299 VA guaranteed home loans in 13 Mississippi cities. Yet the state population was 50 percent Black.
The G.I. Bill expired in 1956.
Veterans received $14.5 billion from the education-and-training portion of the program. It paid for itself, because the “increase in Federal income taxes alone would pay for the cost of the bill several times over.”
And mortgages? By 1955, the G.I. Bill was part of 4.3 million home loans valued at $33 billion ($361 billion in 2022 dollars). Veterans bought 20 percent of all new homes built after WWII. I grew up in one.
On Veteran’s Day 2021, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced the GI Bill Restoration Act (HR5905). The bill would provide descendants of Black WWII veterans “a transferable benefit that could be used to obtain housing, attend college or start a business.” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) also introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S3210).
We must do better.
What is the origin of “GI”?
Boxes and materials distributed in World War I and II were stamped Government Issue (GI).