The GI Bill and Race

I didn’t know this.

From NYT:

Katznelson (author of When Affirmative Action Was White’: Uncivil Rights) reserves his harshest criticism for the unfair application of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, a series of programs that poured $95 billion into expanding opportunity for soldiers returning from World War II. Over all, the G.I. Bill was a dramatic success, helping 16 million veterans attend college, receive job training, start businesses and purchase their first homes. Half a century later, President Clinton praised the G.I. Bill as ”the best deal ever made by Uncle Sam,” and said it ”helped to unleash a prosperity never before known.”

But Katznelson demonstrates that African-American veterans received significantly less help from the G.I. Bill than their white counterparts. ”Written under Southern auspices,” he reports, ”the law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.” He cites one 1940’s study that concluded it was ”as though the G.I. Bill had been earmarked ‘For White Veterans Only.’ ” Southern Congressional leaders made certain that the programs were directed not by Washington but by local white officials, businessmen, bankers and college administrators who would honor past practices. As a result, thousands of black veterans in the South — and the North as well — were denied housing and business loans, as well as admission to whites-only colleges and universities. They were also excluded from job-training programs for careers in promising new fields like radio and electrical work, commercial photography and mechanics. Instead, most African-Americans were channeled toward traditional, low-paying ”black jobs” and small black colleges, which were pitifully underfinanced and ill equipped to meet the needs of a surging enrollment of returning soldiers.

Something as American as the GI Bill which acted as an economic stimulus for middle America was administered in a racial way. I think this is remarkable. This reminds us that race is an all-encompassing issue in United States. I thank Linda for pointing this out.

Update: This is Katznelson’s web site – Of the 3,229 GI Bill guaranteed home, business, and farm loans made in 1947 in Mississippi, for example, only two were offered to black veterans. At no other time in American history has so much money and so many resources been put at the service of the generation completing education, entering the work force, and forming families. Comparatively little of this largesse was available to black veterans. With these policies, the Gordian Knot binding race to class tightened.

0 Responses

  1. Thanks for the hat tip.  Check out the book “The Gift Outright” which is the most authoritative treatment of how the country prospered from the GI Bill and see how the author deals with racial disparities.  Imagine how much wealth the entire country would have had if those benefits had been distributed equally.  Enterprise begets enterprise.

    And the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in American history is now beginning with the death of the Baby Boomers’ parents, the vast majority of whom benefitted from the GI Bill.  So this inequality of wealth is about to be passed on as inheritance, which is another good reason to have an estate tax.

  2. me too!!! This is completely new knowledge to me. What could’ve been more equitable than the G.I. Bill? Dammit. America can be somewhat depressing at times.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

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