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African Americans, Women, and the GI Bill

Overview

  • African Americans and women were entitled to the same benefits as white men under the GI Bill, but they often faced difficulty trying to claim their benefits due to discrimination.
  • Those who did manage to get benefits were often directed towards training for menial jobs.
  • The frustration of African American veterans barred from participating in the postwar economic boom became a major motivating factor in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

African Americans, women, and the GI Bill

Discrimination often barred female or African American veterans from enjoying the benefits of the GI Bill. Though the program was federally funded, its implementation was directed at the state and local level by the Veterans Administration (VA), which was almost entirely white and pro-segregation. VA job counselors frequently steered African American veterans towards vocational training instead of university courses.

Many colleges had either stated or implied limits on the number of black students they would admit. Most black veterans chose to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) when possible, rather than deal with the discrimination.

African Americans also faced serious barriers to home ownership. Many banks refused to loan money to blacks, federal guaranty or not. Suburban neighborhoods often banned African American families from purchasing homes in their subdivisions. As white families moved to the suburbs, black citizens were left behind in decaying inner cities.

Over 332,000 woman veterans were also eligible for benefits under the GI Bill. A higher percentage of women chose a university education (as opposed to vocational training) than men. One university dean estimated that 70% of woman veterans were prepared for college.

Women's experiences varied. Often they were not informed that they were eligible for the GI Bill, or they faced hostility when trying to take advantage of the program. In general, fewer women received college degrees overall during this time period because colleges limited female enrollment in order to make space for male veterans.

The GI Bill's legacy

The GI Bill demonstrated that the US government was obligated to protect the rights of American veterans, including the right to work and education, as compensation for their service.

The GI Bill was also a key factor in creating the affluent American society of the 1950s and 1960s. But the uneven distribution of its benefits contributed to the growing resentment of African Americans for being shut out of schools, neighborhoods, and entire economic brackets.


Source: African Americans, Women, and the GI Bill
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