The GI Bill and Race
I didn’t know this.
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.