Americans have long revered their soldiers and veterans for their service, but the record is clear- American society did not afford Black soldiers or their families the same liberties and benefits.
Though some Black soldiers were able to sustain after their return from the warfront, many were unjustly discriminated against or assaulted instead of praised upon their return to America.
In June 1944 the federal government passed the Servicemembers’ Readjustment Act of 1944— the GI Bill of Rights— to help those who served in the Armed Forces return to normal life. There is little surprise that this did not apply to Black soldiers.
“It offered federal aid to help veterans adjust to civilian life in the areas of hospitalization, purchase of homes and businesses, and especially, education,” according to information released by the National Archives. “This act provided tuition, subsistence, books and supplies, equipment, and counseling services for veterans to continue their education in school or college.”
While White soldiers had full use of their benefits to build wealth and pass it down to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Black soldiers were left to struggle in a racist society that did not appreciate their sacrifice or their commitment to the nation.
“Descendants are without right now, and these children are entitled to reparations,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC-06), speaking about the family members of Black soldiers who left out of G.I. Bill benefits.
In 2020 Clyburn and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA-06) introduced an amendment to the G.I. Bill aimed at compensating Black families that were restricted from accessing the economic benefit of having a soldier in their home.
The Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act of 2021 seeks to aid living descendents of Black World War II veterans in finally receiving the benefits their families were denied based on race.
The Bill is named in honor of World War II veterans Sgt. Isaac Woodard and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox.
Upon returning to his home state of South Carolina, Woodard was viciously attacked by police officers. He was still wearing his uniform when he was beaten unconscious over a small verbal disagreement with the bus driver. The interaction with police left him permanently blind.
According to information released by Clyburn’s office, when Maddox applied to Harvard University for a master’s degree he received an acceptance letter from the school and a rejection letter from his local veteran affairs office, where he had applied for tuition assistance.
The administrators there wanted to ‘avoid setting a precedent’ of helping Black soldiers become Black scholars.
As a result of their discriminatory practices, Clyburn’s office reports that “19 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.”
While White soldiers were able to build off of the financial grounding they received after their service, many Black families that welcomed home Black soldiers continued to struggle.
] should have been done long ago, but there is no time like the present,” said Rep. Clyburn.
According to Clyburn’s office, if passed, the legislation would increase access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program by extending the benefits “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.”
The bill would also expand “access to the Post-911 GI Bill educational assistance benefits” to living marital partners and “certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans alive at the time of the bill’s enactment.”
The legislation calls for detailed reporting on “the number of individuals who received the educational and housing benefits,” while also creating 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.”
The Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act of 2021 has only been introduced in the House of Representatives.