African Americans and the G.I. Bill
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African American veterans have benefited less than others from the G.I. Bill.
The G.I. Bill aimed to help American World War II veterans adjust to civilian life by providing them with benefits including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans and financial support. African Americans did not benefit from nearly as much as European Americans. Historian Ira Katznelson argues that "the law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow". Of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill, fewer than 100 were taken out by non-whites.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), because of its strong affiliation to the all-white American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, also became a formidable foe to many blacks in search of an education, because it had the power to deny or grant the claims of black G.I.s.
Additionally, banks and mortgage agencies refused loans to blacks, making the G.I. Bill even less effective for blacks. Once they returned from the war, blacks faced discrimination and poverty, which represented a barrier to harnessing the benefits of the G.I. Bill, because labor and income were immediately needed at home.
Most southern universities principles refused to admit blacks until the Civil Rights revolution. Segregation was legally mandated in that region. Colleges accepting blacks in the South initially numbered 100. Those institutions were of lower quality, with 28 of them classified as sub-baccalaureate. Only seven states offered postbaccalaureate training, while no accredited engineering or doctoral programs were available for blacks. These institutions were all smaller than white or nonsegregated universities, often facing a lack of resources.
Even after admission to universities, public education was in such a poor state for blacks that many of them were not adequately prepared for college level work. Those who were prepared for college level work gained admission to predominantly white universities.
By 1946, only one fifth of the 100,000 blacks who had applied for educational benefits had been registered in college. Furthermore, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) came under increased pressure as rising enrollments and strained resources forced them to turn away an estimated 20,000 veterans. HBCUs were already the poorest colleges. HBCU resources were stretched even thinner when veterans’ demands necessitated an expansion in the curriculum beyond the traditional "preach and teach" course of study.
Though blacks encountered many obstacles in their pursuit of G.I. benefits, the bill greatly expanded the population of African Americans attending college and graduate school. In 1940, enrollment at Black colleges was 1.08% of total U.S. college enrollment. By 1950 it had increased to 3.6%. Additionally, the bill led to the passage of the Lanham Act of 1946, which provided for federal funding for the improvement and expansion of HBCUs. However, these gains were limited almost exclusively to Northern states, and the educational and economic gap between white and black nationally, widened under the effects of the G.I. Bill. With 79 percent of the black population living in southern states, educational gains were limited to a small part of black America.
- Kotz, Nick (28 August 2005). "Review: 'When Affirmative Action Was White': Uncivil Rights". New York Times. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
- Katznelson, Ira (2006). When affirmative action was white : an untold history of racial inequality in twentieth-century America ([Norton pbk ed.] ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0393328516.
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