The Thin Tweed Line
Navigation Bar Home Faculty Administration Students Trustees Government Tuition

With World War II waging, one major question on the mind of the American public and politicians was whether there would be enough jobs for the returning veterans and displaced war workers (Mosch, 1975). Considering the fact that the United States was just exiting the Great Depression, the concern of many politicians was of how World War II would affect the economy. Thus, with economic motives, the government formulated the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill (Mosch, 1975). The G.I. bill was intended to offer an equal education for the service members whose educational opportunity was interrupted by the war and did this by offering federal funding for those who wished to seek higher education. However, the bill's intention of equality of education, when in actual practice, proved to be more than insufficient in certain racial areas. Although the G.I. bill theoretically granted all veterans with the same higher education benefits, in practice, the bill greatly contributed to the societal gap between Caucasians and African Americans.

The United State's readjustment plan superseding the first World War served greatly as a learning point for the government. While, in America, returning vets were reduced to being utilized as strikebreakers, Great Britain and Canada had established more successful demobilization programs (England, 1950). Notably, the British emphasized the importance of education in all of their readjustment programs, establishing that, "Education is not only intimately bound up with social and industrial reconstruction, but is in a sense the most important and enduring side of post-war policy" (Great Britain, Ministry of Reconstruction, 1919). Through this precedent set by Britain's comparatively effective demobilization of World War I, American Congress members learned that such wars had interrupted the educational process of a large amount of persons, specifically the youth; such discontinuities not only harmed the individuals concerned, but also damage the country as a whole due to the lost potential (Mosch, 1975). This caveat given by World War I served as the foundation for sentiments leading to the formation of the G.I. bill.

In June, 1942, concerns over the possible end of WWII prompted the creation of a Commission on "Post-War Training and Adjustment composed of forty-five leading educators" at Columbia University (Mosch, 1975). As we would suspect, the commission, familiar with the British governmental reports of World education, suggested higher education as a major element of readjustment programs. The Commission on Post-War Training and Adjustment held an extremely staunch position upon higher education writing that, the re-education program is primarily an obligation of the Federal Government. Certainly this applies to returned servicemen, and in only slightly less degree to those dislocated from war industry" (Cartwright, 1944). Upon the work of several more committees, the Veterans' Omnibus Bill was formed and revised until Congress passed it without a single vote in opposition and was signed into Public Law 346 on June 22, 1944 (Mosch, 1975).

The G.I. Bill was signed into law under the justification that veterans deserved an equal opportunity of receiving higher education. Soldiers, before the enactment of the G.I. Bill felt that, "they [were being] penalized because they served their country" and the bill offered veterans a chance to, "be accorded the right to equalize their status and catch up, so to speak" (Congressional Record, 1944). We see, then, that the Servicemen's Readjustment Act was founded upon the concept of parity and offering an equal opportunity of education to all. The overall theme of the G.I. Bill was decidedly to "provide equality of opportunity for all" (Shank, 1994). These sentiments of equality and fair play are rampant throughout the legislature and politicians involved. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt , in his "Development of Natural Resources - Report for 1942" given to Congress, declared that, alongside the old Bill of Rights, new freedoms must be added such as "the right to education... [and] the right to equality before the law" (Rosenman, 1942). The government wished to offer a uniform chance to access higher education to all, and with these convictions in mind, drafted the G.I. Bill.

Despite the G.I. Bill's theoretical uniformity in higher education, the actual application of the legislature was hardly objective. Consider, for example, the fact that he Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, "authorized the administrator of the Veterans' Administration (V.A.) to prescribe and promulgate [the] rules and regulations [of the G.I. Bill] as may be necessary to carry out its purposes and provisions" (Olson, 1974). So the Bill's provisions were completely at the mercy of local V.A. chapters as well as the United States Employment Service (USES) and their staff's personal opinions. These local centers were, "staffed almost exclusively by white employees..." and, "not too surprisingly, southern racial discrimination would block [black veteran's] access to... the bill's... major benefits" (Onkst, 1998). For example, in 1947, "The VA had only employed a total of approximately a dozen African American counselors in Georgia and Alabama and not one in Mississippi" (Wright, 1947). Putting the power of interpretation into the hands of the nearly entirely white local chapters, the G.I. Bill was largely ineffective in the South as many blacks were turned away from the opportunity of higher education on the grounds that local chapters ruled them as qualified merely for manual labor.

Since white counselors possessed the authority to decide which jobs were "appropriate" for returning veterans, "many black veterans found themselves browbeaten into accepting positions they did not want. Some of Alabama's black veterans had to choose between accepting low-paying unskilled jobs and not receiving any unemployment compensation. [ USES] counselors simply informed veterans that they would be unable to collect any compensation if they refused jobs offered to them by the agency. USES officials considered such refusals a violation of the "suitable" work stipulation" (Onkst, 1998). Although the G.I. Bill was drafted with good intentions, we see it being manipulated and utilized as a form of suppression of the black community from entering the workforce into positions they qualify for, instead funneling black veterans into menial labor.

By placing the control of who deserved benefits in the hands of individual and local V.A. and USES counselors, the government effectively barred many black veterans from entering fields they were more than qualified for. For example, "Willie May, a black veteran who had spent three years in the Army Signal Corps stringing and repairing communication lines, went to his local USES center to try to find a job that would allow him to use his sills. Although the USES informed him that no such positions were available, USES counselors still placed several white veterans, who had also served in the Signal Corps, in jobs at the Birmingham Power Company. May, on the other hand, had to settle for a position as a Pullman porter" (New York Times, 1946). The counselors, here, are seen as using their government supplied clout to do the exactly what the Servicemen's Readjustment Act originally attempted to prevent in wasting the potential of the young veterans coming home; forcing May and countless others into manual, unskilled labor was not only detrimental to the individuals who were denied by the USES but the entire nation as well.

In a similar story, Charles B. Rangel, A veteran of the Korean War, likewise had his path to higher education blocked by the USES and VA counselors. "Rangel returned home to confront white military guidance counselors, who advised him to seek a trade rather than apply to college. Rangel recalls being informed that he should become a mortician...; instead, he went on to graduate from St. John's University Law School" (Herbold, 1994). Rangel went on to become a Congressman representing New York. Rangel was able to overcome the counselors attempting to direct him away from education and obtain a vocation of incredible significance; one can only wonder how many great minds were denied the 'equal' right of education offered by the G.I. Bill on the grounds that they were Black and deemed by local USES counselors as more fit for unskilled positions. In similar instances, black veterans who already completed their bachelor's degree before enlisting were often denied of their G.I. Bill benefits by the VA upon the grounds that they required no additional education (Herbold, 1994). The denial of these more than qualified individuals was detrimental not only to the individuals involved and the black community, but to the entire nation as well. Such repressions of the more educated and qualified black veterans greatly contributed to the enlargement of the societal gap between African Americans and Caucasians.

The G.I. Bill didn't actually lend veterans money, but rather allowed the Veterans' Administration (VA) to serve as a cosigner for bank loans to be used for higher education. Thus the utilization of the benefits offered by the G.I. Bill depended completely upon whether the veteran was able to obtain a loan either from some sort of lending agency or bank. Due to this requirement, "many veterans who belonged to the South's poorest socio-economic class, particularly black veterans, could not even get past this first stage in the loan process... Black veterans also quickly learned that many banks and lending agencies discriminated against them specifically because of the color of their skin" (Onkst, 1998). While we may consider such discrimination as limited, we must consider the statistics from a survey of thirteen cities in Mississippi circa 1947, which found that "of the 3,229 loans that the VA had guaranteed for veterans in those cities, black veterans had received only two" (Ebony, 1947). With the banks and mortgage agencies refusing loans to Blacks, the G.I. Bill was essentially made ineffective for the blacks. Such discrepancies in availability of loans lead to disproportionate educational opportunities, in an exact contradiction of the intention of the G.I. Bill; although some African Americans did manage to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, higher education remained much more accessible for the Caucasians, further contributing to the societal divide between the two demographics.

The African Americans who were lucky enough to secure potential funding for their higher education faced further adversity in the form of segregation. Most universities of the time, with the exception of historically black schools, "discouraged blacks from matriculating, and official or unofficial quotas existed at those places that did admit blacks. As a result, during the 1940s the number of blacks who sought admission to predominantly white colleges remained small" (Herbold, 1994). With so few positions available for a large amount of returning black veterans, universities became oversaturated; schools with quotas had them fully filled, and universities that offered open enrollment to blacks quickly ran out of space to accommodate all of the applicants. "An estimated 20,000 black veterans were turned away from the Negro colleges, and a survey of 21 of the southern black colleges indicated that 55 percent of all applications were turned away for lack of space, compared to about 28 percent for all colleges and universities" (Turner, 2002). In the South, schools were still segregated and there wasn't enough room at black colleges for all of the returning veterans and, "in the northern states... few historically black institutions existed" (Herbold, 1994). Again, despite the G.I. Bill theoretically aiding blacks in attending schools, barriers to enrollment were extremely prevalent (Turner, 2002). Thousands of viable and eligible black applicants were denied the education guaranteed by the G.I. Bill; so while the G.I. Bill didn't directly damage the educational opportunities offered to blacks, it certainly did not prove to be nearly as constructive as it was for their Caucasian compatriots. Such a staggering juxtaposition in education assistance greatly contributed to civil differences between the two races.

Those African Americans who managed to secure a position at an educational institution soon discovered that the facilities offered by black schools were far inferior to those found in Caucasian schools. The addition of veterans to the schooling system, "changed the emphasis in universities from the gentleman's classical education to more applied sciences such as engineering and economics... taking higher education out of the Ivy League and into something more approaching the real world" (Herbold, 1994). However, historically black schools were hopelessly underfunded and as a result, "no school had an accredited engineering department or a graduate program at the doctoral level, and seven states had no graduate program at all" (Olson, 1974). This substantial difference in curriculum caused blacks to essentially all behind in the applied sciences. Regardless of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act causing, "enrollment variance, the Negro colleges' experience with the G.I. Bill veterans followed a pattern familiar to other colleges... [T]here was no major structural change of programs or administrations. At the end of the veteran era the Negro colleges still held the same position in higher education that they had a decade earlier" (Olson, 1974). So not only was access to upper division schools limited, but the schooling available for blacks was vastly unequal to that offered to whites. While most schools were progressing towards technical degrees and studies, historically black schools remained stationary, offering no education opportunities in new fields to black veterans. Meanwhile many white veterans encountered educational benefits resulting in an economic increase for both the veterans and the government (Mosch, 1975). Such discrepancies are hardly consistent with the G.I. Bill's intention of equality of education and greatly contributed to a separation between the classes of the Caucasians and the Blacks.

One of the main reasons for black institutions being inadequate in the applied science department were the hiring practices of the time. Employment in technical fields were still widely closed to blacks (Herbold, 1994) meaning that there was really no incentive for African Americans to study the applied sciences even if they were available seeing as it was highly unlikely that any blacks would be able to successfully pursue a career in such fields of study. "It made little sense to pursue a degree in electronics if industry continued to confine blacks to unskilled jobs; then as now, hiring practices played a part in determining the choice of disciplines" (Herbold, 1994). Meanwhile, the G.I. Bill, when utilized by Caucasians, "afforded a generation of working-class Americans an unprecedented opportunity to earn a college degree, and served for many as a lever into economic security. AT the same time, the university came to define and ensure the ongoing production of a white middle class, rather than solely a training ground for the moneyed elite. But because blacks had fewer opportunities to earn college degrees, with or without benefits, the black middle class failed to keep pace" (Herbold, 1994). So while this G.I. Bill induced paradigm shift aided the expansion and development of the white middle class, it simultaneously resulted in the black middle class trailing behind. The black veterans' opportunities were not directly impaired by the G.I. Bill, but they didn't seem to benefit nearly as much from the legislature as the Caucasian middle class did, leading to the aforementioned enlarged socio-economic gaps.

While the G.I. Bill was founded with concepts such as equality and natural rights to education in mind, in its actual application, the bill only enlarged the divide between the white and black socio-economic classes. Black veterans were often refused the loans necessary to attend institutions offering higher education, hence negating the G.I. Bill for those rejected purely on their race. While white veterans were offered a plethora of universities to choose from, Blacks were restricted to either black colleges which were filled to capacity or schools which only accepted a set amount of Black students. The government may have been willing to pay tuition, but, "that was of little help to blacks who could not enter college... because of overcrowding at black colleges" (Herbold, 1994). For the black veterans who managed to attend a post-secondary institution, they soon found the institutions to be under-funded, small, and academically stagnant, wit "These institutions [being] largely excluded from the "university revolution" that swept through much of public higher education in the first part of the century" (Goldin & Katz, 1999). Even if black veterans were able to attend institutions offering the technical trades associated with this "university revolution", they would not be able to have put their education to a use since the hiring practices of the industry persistently restricted blacks to unskilled jobs. On top of all of this, overbearingly white VA and USES counselors were given the power of interpretation of how much education veterans needed, and thus dictated that most black veterans required further education since they perceived all backs as destined for manual labor. Although the G.I. Bill did indeed succeed in aiding blacks move forward in gaining higher education and attending universities, it is clear that the G.I. Bill assisted whites far more than it did for the black veterans. This difference in gains resulting from the G.I. Bill inevitably lead to a larger societal divide between the two races. In the words of the historian John Butler, "The G.I. Bill helped blacks go to college, but it helped whites more" (Altschuler, 2009).



The Servicemen's Readjustment Act and its effect upon African Americans: The Dark Side of the G.I. Bill


Page Author: Kerry E. Olivier

Sunday, 4 March, 2012 17:49



Altschuler, Glenn, and Stuart Blumin. The G.I. Bill: The New Deal for Veterans. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 136.

Cartwright, Morse A. Marching Home: Education and Social Adjustment After the War. New York: Columbia University, 1944. P. 113.

Congressional Record, May 11, 1944. p. 4666.

England, Robert. Twenty Million World War Veterans. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1950. p. 22

"GI Loans: Colored Vets Who Borrow Cash Prove Sound Business Investments," Ebony II No. 10 (August, 1947): 23; Los Angeles Tribune, 19 September 1947, TINCF, R-101, F-454.

Goldin, C. & Katz, L. (1999). “The Shaping of Higher Education: The Formative Years

in the United States, 1890 to 1940.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. 13 (1), 37-62.

Great Britain, Ministry of Reconstruction, Labour Conditions and Adult Education, The Aims of Reconstruction: Reconstruction Problems, X. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1919, pp. 1, 14.

Herbold, Hilary. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education , No. 6 (Winter, 1994-1995), pp. 104-108 Published by: The JBHE Foundation, Inc Article Stable URL: ##

Mosch, Theodore. The G.I. Bill: A Breakthrough in Educational and Social Policy in the United States. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1975. 19, 40.
New York Times, 8 April 1946, TINCF, R-95, F-759.

Olson, Keith W. The GI Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974. pp. 74.

Rosenman, Samuel, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942 volume, p. 52.

Shank, Donald J. "Postwar Education of Service Personnel," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, CCXXXI, January, 1994. pp. 67-68.

Turner, Sarah and Bound, John. Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans. The Journal of Economic History , Vol. 63, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 145-177. Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association. Article Stable URL: ##

Wright, Harry, "A Survey of Veteran Services for Negro Veterans in Mississippi". March 1947, SRC, R-218, F-956.


Editorial Policy

Correspondence to the student authors of this website may be sent to this e-mail address. Make sure your subject includes the name of the author and the article you are referring to along with it's URL. Article copyright is held by their author.

Submissions of original new materials may be made electronically by PDF as long as significant authorship is by undergraduates enrolled in a non-profit educational institution. All materials are peer reviewed by a group of undergraduates.

Editorial articles, lecture presentations, and basic FAQs are marked as such on this website. These articles generally have open copyright and may be used in academic, non-profit settings as long as the author is given full attribution.

The Thin Tweed Line, ©2012 by Steve N. Jackson