|WASHINGTON, D.C. – As we mark the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which drew our country into World War II, U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-06) and Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06) today introduced legislation to repair the economic harms experienced by Black World War II veterans and their families as a result of denied access to the full range of GI Bill benefits. The Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Repair Act of 2020 is named in honor of two World War II veterans who exemplify the indignities faced by African American GI’s after service to their country.
“African American soldiers served valiantly during World War II only to be denied the welcome home salutes and benefits they richly deserved,” said Whip Clyburn. “I’m proud to partner with my colleague, Seth Moulton, to introduce the Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Repair Act of 2020, to honor two of our hometown heroes and ensure Black veterans of World War II and their families receive some of the housing and educational benefits they were denied. These benefits are only the baseline for what these American heroes are owed for their noble service to this nation and the subsequent indignities they were forced to endure upon their return. I call on my colleagues in the House and Senate to pass this critical legislation without delay.”
“We live in the greatest country on Earth, not because it’s perfect, but because generations of American heroes have fought to make it better,” said Rep. Moulton. “The GI Bill was designed to thank veterans of The Greatest Generation, who saved the world for democracy in World War II, with the opportunity to realize the American Dream back home. But racism systematically robbed Black veterans and their families of that opportunity by denying them GI Bill benefits. Now, our generation of Americans can right that wrong and finally repay that debt.”
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr.
Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. was traveling home by bus to Winnsboro, South Carolina, still wearing his uniform after being honorably discharged, when a small-town police chief forcibly removed him from the bus and blinded him with his nightstick. The police chief was acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury, but Sgt. Woodard’s horrific abuse prompted President Truman to sign an Executive Order integrating the armed services.
Sgt. Joseph Maddox
After being injured during his service and medically discharged, Sgt. Joseph Maddox, a World War II-era veteran, applied and was accepted to Harvard University for a master’s degree program. He sought VA assistance from his local office to help with the tuition and was denied payment 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.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the original “GI Bill”) provided a range of economic benefits to returning veterans of World War II, including guaranteeing low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans to start a business or farm, unemployment compensation, and education assistance.
While the original GI Bill ushered in decades of prosperity for post-war America, access to this prosperity was limited for Black World War II veterans who were denied full access to these benefits by mostly-white state and local Veterans Administrations. The Veterans Administration adopted the Federal Housing Administration’s (“FHA”) well-documented, racially-exclusive housing programs when it began to insure mortgages for returning veterans. Big developments like Levittown and Daly City, built after World War II, were financed in part by the Veterans Administration with the same racial restrictions the FHA had. Black veterans also lacked full access to the GI Bill’s education assistance programs. Nineteen percent of white World War II veterans earned a college degree as a result of the GI Bill compared to only six percent of Black veterans.
Purposeful discriminatory federal, state, and local policies, along with political and institutional barriers, created significant inequity in access to GI Bill benefits, prevented these heroes from achieving the full economic mobility potential provided by these comprehensive federal benefits, and affected the accumulation of wealth by Black families over generations.
This legislation extends to the surviving spouses and certain direct descendants of Black veterans of World War II eligibility for certain housing and educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Specifically, the Act: