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Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2021: Sep

Virtual displays based on the 2021 A History of Racial Injustice calendar.

September's Topic - Black Veterans of World War II

Calendar photo caption: In February 1945, Staff Sergeant Herbert Ellison explained the G.I. Bill of Rights to Robert T. Walton, Tonil Carter, Lawrence Keys, Sam Anderson, James Millhouse, and James West, in Italy. (Library of Congress)

Calendar Text

To support millions of veterans after World War II, the Servicemen's readjustment Act of 1944 allocated college tuition, low cost home loans, and unemployment insurance benefit to returning service members. The "GI bill" ushered a large group of veterans into new economic security, but racial discrimination prevented over 900,000 Black veterans from accessing those opportunities.

Congress allowed this federal program to be administered by states, which permitted Southern states to discriminate against Black veterans. In addition to overt discrimination by program administrators, segregation in the South limited Black veterans' use of education benefits. Historically Black colleges and universities lacked the funding and capacity to enroll all of the Black veterans who wanted to go to college. Ultimately, 28% of white veterans attended college on the GI bill, compared to 12% of Black veterans.

While white veterans enjoyed benefits that helped them purchase homes, many banks refused to provide mortgages to Black homeowners in Black neighborhoods. Racial segregation left Black veterans without any housing assistance. In Mississippi, only two of more than 3,200 home loans guaranteed by Veterans Affairs went to Black veterans. Homes purchased through the GI bill that rose in value over time created wealth for white veterans that was denied to Black veterans.

This widespread failure to provide the same benefits and support to Black veterans after World War II helped create a racial wealth gap in this country that is still evident today.