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CT attorney general calls for benefits for black WWII veterans and families

300 flags in the fifth annual Veterans Park of Heroes display in Springfield, Mass, Nov. 2, 2020. (Don Treeger/The Republican/TNS)
August 04, 2023

About 16 million Americans served in the military during the war, including 1.2 million African Americans. Black service members experienced all the horrors of war, but because of discrimination, they received a much smaller slice of post-war benefits than their white counterparts.

“Black veterans risked their lives to protect our country during one of the darkest periods in human history,” Tong said, “yet they and their families were egregiously denied many of the benefits they rightfully earned.”

Although the G.I. Bill was race neutral, institutions adopted the Federal Housing Administration’s racial exclusion programs, blocking black veterans from a housing loan guaranty program. In 1947, only 2 of more than 3,200 home loans administered by the VA in Mississippi cities went to black borrowers, according to U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., one of the bill’s sponsors. In New York and New Jersey suburbs, less than 1% of the mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill went to black borrowers, according to Clyburn.

Black veterans also were denied access to educational benefits at certain universities and directed instead to vocational schools and under-funded historically black colleges and universities. The bill says only 6 percent of African-American veterans of World War II earned a college degree, compared to 19 percent of white veterans.

Named after black WWII veterans Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox, the bill would:

— Extend access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program to spouses and certain direct descendants of black World War II veterans who are alive at the time of the bill’s enactment if they can certify that the veteran was denied a specific benefit on the basis of race.

— Extend access to the Post-911 GI Bill educational assistance benefits to the surviving spouse and descendants who can certify that the veteran was denied a specific benefit on the basis of race.

— Require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining the number of individuals who received the educational and housing benefits as a result of this bill.

— Establish a panel of experts to study inequities in the distribution of benefits and assistance administered to female and minority armed forces members and provide recommendations to Congress and the president on additional assistance to repair those inequities.

Black veterans who helped win the most destructive and consequential war in human history came home to a nation where many of their neighbors and people in power viewed them as lesser beings. Woodard had just been honorably discharged and was on a Greyhound bus, headed home in South Carolina in February 1946 after serving under fire in the Pacific.

Woodard told a white bus driver who called him “boy” that he was a man like any other. The driver called police and at the next stop in Bates, S.C., the police chief beat Woodard mercilessly, jabbing each of his eyes with a night stick. Woodard was permanently blinded, but his plight sparked outrage, influenced President Harry Truman’s decision to integrate the military and fueled the Civil Rights movement.

Maddox was accepted by Harvard University but denied financial assistance from his local Veterans Affairs office because the agency wanted to “avoid setting a precedent.” Brandeis Institute for Economic & Racial Equity reported last year that black veterans who tried to use their benefits “faced a society openly hostile to their success.”

“Redlining and racial covenants kept Black veterans and their families from benefiting from the well-funded schools and blossoming property values of post-war suburbia,” the institute reported. “Educational segregation and discrimination limited the opportunities available to black veterans and also overburdened (historically Black colleges and universities) without providing funding to raise their capacity.”

The Institute found that the cash equivalent value of GI Bill benefits for black veterans was only 70% of the value for their white counterparts and that the long-term benefit of having veteran parents was greater for white veterans’ descendants than black veterans’ descendants. On average, according to the study, a black parent who could use the G.I. Bill benefits increased descendant wealth by $23,847, while having a white veteran parent increased descendant wealth by $59,638.

Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson wrote on Veterans Day last year that the legislation carries an $80 billion price tag. The bill’s author, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., however, said the high cost “pales in comparison to the greater, ‘massive’ loss to the country and African American veterans specifically from the discriminatory behavior they suffered.”


(c) 2023 Journal Inquirer

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