Katznelson White

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African Americans and the GI Bill

Ira Katznelson in his article, “When Affirmative Action was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America” published in 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company, London, gives his take on how services were rendered to ex-soldiers of the Second World War. In a nutshell, Katznelson strongly believes that the GI Bill which was enacted in June 1944 to provide a lifeline to US veterans was marred by racial prejudice, although many were led to think that all beneficiaries would be treated equally. Based on the facts that he has presented in this article, I strongly agree with the author that although the program seemed unrivaled in its promise for egalitarianism, it was quickly discerned and employed as a policy “For White Veterans Only”.

Equal treatment under the GI Bill was most likely an illusion. Although there was no racial segregation contained in the new law, the transfer of power to individual states instead of a centralized federal government quarter ensured discrimination against the blacks who sought the services prescribed in the bill. To ensure continuity and a throttlehold of Jim Crow laws, the key lay in bringing different local states and their agencies (which were nearly all-white decentralized units charged with administration) into the set-up.

To begin with, a look at the team that spearheaded the making of the legislation is enough to raise eyebrows. The Committee on World War Legislation in the House of Representatives was chaired by a blatant segregationist, John Rankin. Rankin used the Southern approach of decentralizing administration and give racial discharge of the policies to states and localities. The Veterans Administration and the American Legion, which were at the forefront of implementing the GI bill, clearly approved of racial segregation and were reluctant to dispute racial policies embedded in the South. I think this was a calculated move aimed at...