Bill seeks to aid families of Black WWII veterans deprived of GI benefits

A trio of congressional lawmakers are looking to resuscitate legislation that would give financial benefits to descendants and spouses of Black veterans who fought in World War II who were excluded from aid outlined in the original GI Bill.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a Marine veteran who served four tours in Iraq and the author of the proposal, introduced it to the House last week with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is scheduled to introduce the legislation in the Senate in the coming weeks.

“We all know the GI Bill lifted up a generation of WWII veterans and built the American century,” Moulton said in a statement

“Most Americans,” Moulton added, “don’t know that many Black veterans were left out: denied benefits, denied homes, denied the generational wealth that comes from going to college. We can never fully repay those American heroes. But we can fix this going forward for their families.” 

Formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the bill signed into law by former President Franklin Roosevelt provided the millions of soldiers returning home from the Second World War considerable financial aid to advance their lives as civilians, be it for college or buying their first home.

However, because the process to receive the benefits went through local Veteran Affairs offices, many Black soldiers, especially in the Jim Crow South, were never able to access the aid they deserved.

The legislation bears the names of a pair of Black WWII-era veterans: Sgts. Isaac Woodard Jr. and Joseph Maddox.

Woodward, a native of Winnsboro, S.C., was traveling back home after being honorably discharged when he was forcibly removed from the bus he was on by a local police chief. 

The officer brutally beat the still-in-uniform Woodward with his nightstick, permanently blinding him.

Woodward’s maiming led former President Truman to integrate the country’s military in 1948.

Maddox’s local VA office denied him tuition assistance after he was admitted to a Harvard master’s program. 

The proposed legislation extends the VA Loan Guaranty Program and the Post-9/11 GI Bill educational assistance to “the surviving spouse and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans alive at the time of the bill’s enactment.”

It also mandates that a panel be established to study the “inequities in the distribution of benefits and assistance administered to female and minority members” of the military.

“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,” Clyburn added in the statement.

“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.”

The gap in home ownership between white and Black families is one of the starkest wealth disparities in the U.S.

According to the Census Bureau, non-Hispanic white families have a home ownership rate of 74 percent, while Black families have a rate of only 44 percent.

Updated 4:00 p.m.

Tags GI Bill Raphael Warnock Seth Moulton Veterans Day WWII

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