MOULTON, CLYBURN INTRODUCE LANDMARK LEGISLATION TO PROVIDE BLACK WWII VETERANS, DESCENDANTS FULL GI BILL BENEFITS; WARNOCK TO INTRODUCE IN SENATE
Washington, D.C — In 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law. In theory, the G.I. Bill represented a promise from the country to the people who fought on its behalf that their sacrifice would be rewarded with the opportunity to attend college and build generational wealth. In practice, generations of Black veterans of World War II and their descendants were robbed of this promise because of Jim Crow and the wide racial disparity in the bill’s implementation.
In honor of Veterans Day, 77 years later, Representative Seth Moulton (MA-06) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-06) introduced legislation in the House, and Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is set to introduce in the Senate, legislation designed to begin to repair the damage: The Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act of 2021, more simply known as the G.I. Bill Restoration Act. The bill, authored by Rep. Moulton, would provide the families of Black veterans of World War II a transferable benefit that their descendants can use to attend college, secure housing, start businesses and build generational wealth.
The bill is named in honor of two World War II veterans who exemplify the indignities African American veterans faced after serving their country.
“We all know the G.I. Bill lifted up a generation of WWII veterans and built the American century. It’s been called the most successful piece of legislation ever. But most Americans don’t know that many Black veterans were left out: denied benefits, denied homes, denied the generational wealth that comes from going to college,” said Congressman Seth Moulton, the author of the bill. “We can never fully repay those American heroes. But we can fix this going forward for their families. While our generation didn’t commit this wrong, we should be committed to making it right. This legislation honors our nation’s commitment to America's vets.”
“I was a young student when President Truman integrated the Armed Services in response to the blinding of Isaac Woodard, and that stuck with me throughout my life. We must rectify what happened not only to Sgt. Woodard, but to all the Black World War II veterans who were treated unjustly when they returned home from serving their country and denied their G.I. Bill benefits,” said Congressman Clyburn. “We all know that the quickest way to build wealth is through education and homeownership. So many Black families were denied this path to the middle class. It is important to acknowledge this injustice and help address the wealth gap that was exacerbated by the government’s failure to fulfill this promise to World War II veterans of color.”
“Black servicemembers fought valiantly in Europe and the Pacific for freedom from tyranny, with hope that their patriotism would be greeted with equality and opportunity once they returned home,” said Senator Warnock. “Racial inequity in how the immense benefits of the original G.I. Bill were disbursed are well-documented, and we’ve all seen how these inequities have trickled down over time, leaving Black World War II veterans and their families without what they earned through service and sacrifice. The G.I. Bill Restoration Act represents a major step toward righting this injustice and repairing the economic harms experienced by Black WWII veterans and their families as a result of discrimination, and will help ensure their descendants can access the full range of G.I. Bill benefits they earned through their heroic service.”
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr.
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. was traveling home by bus to Winnsboro, South Carolina, still wearing his uniform after being honorably discharged, when a small-town police chief forcibly removed him from the bus and blinded him with his nightstick. The police chief was acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury, but Sgt. Woodard’s horrific abuse prompted President Truman to sign an Executive Order integrating the armed services.
Sgt. Joseph Maddox
After being injured during his service and medically discharged, Sgt. Joseph Maddox, a World War II-era veteran, applied and was accepted to Harvard University for a master’s degree program. He sought VA assistance from his local office to help with the tuition and was denied payment to “avoid setting a precedent.” After seeking assistance from the NAACP, the VA in Washington, D.C. ultimately promised to get Sgt. Maddox the educational benefits he deserved.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the original “G.I. Bill”) provided a range of economic benefits to returning veterans of World War II, including guaranteeing low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans to start a business or farm, unemployment compensation, and education assistance.
While the original G.I. Bill ushered in decades of prosperity for post-war America, access to this prosperity was limited for Black World War II veterans who were denied full access to these benefits by mostly-white state and local Veterans Administrations.
The Veterans Administration adopted the Federal Housing Administration’s (“FHA”) well-documented, racially-exclusive housing programs when it began to insure mortgages for returning veterans. Big developments like Levittown and Daly City, built after World War II, were financed in part by the Veterans Administration with the same racial restrictions the FHA had. Black veterans also lacked full access to the G.I. Bill’s education assistance programs. Nineteen percent of white World War II veterans earned a college degree as a result of the G.I. Bill compared to only six percent of Black veterans.
Purposeful discriminatory federal, state, and local policies, along with political and institutional barriers, created significant inequity in access to GI Bill benefits, prevented these heroes from achieving the full economic mobility potential provided by these comprehensive federal benefits, and affected the accumulation of wealth by Black families over generations.
This legislation extends to the surviving spouses and certain direct descendants of Black veterans of World War II eligibility for certain housing and educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Specifically, the Act:
- Extends access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program to the surviving spouse and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans who are alive at the time of the bill’s enactment;
- Extends access to the Post-911 GI Bill educational assistance benefits to the surviving spouse and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans alive at the time of the bill’s enactment;
- Requires a GAO report outlining the number of individuals who received the educational and housing benefits; and
- Establishes a Blue-Ribbon Panel of independent experts to study inequities in the distribution of benefits and assistance administered to female and minority members of the Armed Forces and provide recommendations on additional assistance to repair those inequities.