WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law in 1944. This landmark legislation represented a promise to all who fought for our country that their sacrifice would be rewarded with a range of benefits, including low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans to start a business or farm, unemployment compensation, and education assistance.
In practice, this opportunity for prosperity was denied to Black World War II veterans and their descendants. Today, Congressmen James E. Clyburn (SC-06) and Seth Moulton (MA-06) are seeking to right this generational wrong with the reintroduction of the Sgt. Issac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act. The Congressmen previously introduced this legislation in the 117th Congress.
“The quickest ways to overcome poverty in this country are through education and homeownership. The denial of these benefits to Black veterans returning home from service has impacted the accumulation of generational wealth for Black families across the country,” said Congressman Clyburn. “We must restore the possibility of full economic mobility and the promise of the original G.I. Bill to all impacted by these discriminatory federal practices. This legislation will honor that commitment.”
“We all know the GI 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 Moulton. “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.”
The Sgt. Issac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act would:
• Extend 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;
• Extend 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;
• Require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining the number of individuals who received the educational and housing benefits;
• Establish 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.
It is important that we not run from our history, but instead embrace the lessons of our past. The bill is named after Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox, two relatively unknown Black World War II veterans who faced life-altering injustices due to their race. Those who misuse the term “critical race theory” may disavow the teaching of their stories, but their experiences are “critical race facts” that must be shared.
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr.
In February of 1946, decorated World War II veteran Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. was traveling home on a Greyhound bus to Winnsboro, South Carolina when a local police chief forcibly removed him from the bus and blinded him with his blackjack nightstick. Still in his uniform after being honorably discharged, Woodard was thrown in jail rather than given medical treatment. The police chief was ultimately charged but acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury. President Truman was so moved by Sgt. Woodard’s horrific abuse that he signed an Executive Order integrating the armed services.
Sgt. Joseph Maddox
After facing injury and receiving a medical discharge, World War II veteran Sgt. Joseph Maddox was accepted to a master’s degree program at Harvard University. He was denied tuition assistance that he was rightfully due under the G.I. Bill by his local Veterans Affairs office 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.
Black veterans sacrificed for this country because they believed in its promise of justice and equality for all. Yet, while the original G.I. Bill led to decades of prosperity for post-World War II America, this prosperity was not extended to the Black servicemembers upon coming home by mostly white state and local Veterans Administrations.
In 1947, only 2 of more than 3,200 home loans administered by the VA in Mississippi cities went to Black borrowers. Similarly, in New York and New Jersey suburbs, less than 1% of the mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill went to Black borrowers.
These injustices also extended to the G.I. Bill’s education assistance programs. Roughly 19% of white World War II veterans earned a college degree due in part to the benefits offered by the G.I. Bill, compared to just 6% percent of Black veterans.
The impact of these disparities in education and homeownership has only grown with time. Homeownership is a helpful tool for wealth accumulation in the United States. According to a report from the Consumer Federation of America, homeownership between white Americans and Black Americans stand at 74.50% and 44.10% respectively as of 2020. This contrasts with homeownership rates in 1960 between whites and Blacks, 65% and 38% respectively. This homeownership disparity helps explain the difference in net worth for white families ($171,000) compared to that of Black families ($17,150).