How many of you are familiar with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944? What if I say the “G.I. Bill?” Well, they are one in the same. This historic and life changing legislation was a “game changer” for some and another “closed door” for others. It was often a gateway to financial stability, that in part, explains the wealth gap between Black and white families. It is also a clear example of systemic racism and a reality that too many Americans want to ignore.
However, today, we have to tell the truth. After World War II, the United States was looking at roughly 16 million United States Service members returning to the country. Many of the military skills of these soldiers were not valued in the civilian world. Often the soldiers were thought to be unskilled, unprepared and unemployable.
Congressional members created the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act to address these concerns. The act was intended to help veterans attend college and obtain a degree that would position them to care for their themselves and their families. The act also sought to assist these soldiers purchase their first home. This provided them solid footing in acquiring their initial introduction to generational wealth.Wait, let me clear that up. It was primarily a vehicle for white veterans to achieve the “American dream” of home ownership and a family supporting job. Let me explain.
Decisions regarding which soldiers could obtain G.I. Bill benefits were made by local Veteran Affairs (VA) officers. No one will be surprised to learn that there were very few Black VA officers. No representation, no consideration and very few approvals for Black veterans to use their G.I. Bill for home loans and educational expenses. While it was worse in Southern states, Black WWII veterans were systematically shut out of these benefits that they were entitled to receive.
In fact, an estimated 1.2 million Black veterans, who served this country, were shut out of accessing the G.I. Bill and its many provisions. The G.I. Bill has been re-imagined over the years, but it is important to know that some 8 million WWII veterans went to school on the program and over 4 million home loans were made. Black veterans were mostly left out of these opportunities.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to provide redress to the Black soldiers and their families that were discriminated against. It is in this spirit that I wholeheartedly support the effort of Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) to introduce legislation to make this right. Warnock, the son of a WWII veteran, is joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts) who offered a companion bill in the House of Representatives. We need to honor every soldier that has helped to keep our people safe and protect this country. We have failed to do that. It’s time the nation lives up to the military motto to “leave no man behind.