In a WWII barracks in Italy, a group of Black soldiers are seated as a fellow Black soldier explains a poster describing the G.I. Bill of rights.
Staff Sergeant Herbert Ellison explainss the G.I. Bill of Rights to Air Force soldiers in Italy; photo bu Johnnie Filecia, Library of Congress.

AG Campbell leads bi-partisan call on Congress to pass GI Bill Restoration Act, grant benefits to Black World War II veterans and their families


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On the 75th Anniversary of the desegregation of the U.S. Military, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell led a bi-partisan, multi-state call on Congress to support H.R. 1255, the Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023. The federal legislation, named in honor of two Black World War II veterans, extends eligibility for housing loans and educational assistance administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to Black World War II veterans, their surviving spouses, and certain direct descendants if the veteran was previously denied benefits on the basis of race. 

In the letter, AG Campbell and 23 attorneys general asserted the legislation, through expanding access to homeownership and education, would help rectify past wrongs and fuel continued economic growth in communities across the country. “Our decision to uplift this legislation on this date is intentional,” the letter contends. “Today marks the 75th anniversary of President Truman’s signing of Executive Order 9981, on July 26, 1948, which mandated the desegregation of the U.S. military. This anniversary represents a powerful moment for us to honor and reaffirm our commitment to supporting and expanding economic opportunity for all of America’s veterans.” 

“I’m proud to co-lead this bipartisan coalition of attorneys general calling on Congress to extend assistance to Black veterans that were sadly denied benefits. The painful reality is that too many of our country’s institutions and policies were designed to exclude Black residents and people of color,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell. “While white veterans were provided benefits through the GI Bill that led to homeownership, educational and employment assistance, many Black veterans were flat-out denied access to those same opportunities that we know are the bedrock of wealth-building and economic mobility. Simply put, the system failed Black veterans and their families, and seventy-five years later, we have an opportunity to right the wrong.” 

“For me this is all about fairness and righting past wrongs. We must keep up our end of the bargain and ensure that all of those who served and protected us are ultimately given the promised benefits they earned risking their lives for our nation,” said New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella. “I recognize that there is much more work to do to ensure that all veterans have access to the benefits they deserve, including healthcare, housing, education, and disability related benefits. Restoring these earned and unfairly denied benefits to Black veterans and their descendants will fuel our economy and, most importantly, send the message that none of our heroes will ever be forgotten.” 

               “After serving their country during World War II, many Black veterans returned home and found they were unable to access the plethora of housing and educational opportunities afforded to white veterans. These discriminatory policies affected generations of African American families, greatly limiting their access to the economic benefits of home ownership, including denying access to the middle class for Black veterans and their families,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “Passing the Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023 is a step toward remedying the historic inequity resulting from the discriminatory practices that continue to impact the families of Black World War II veterans to this day.” 

Although the legislative text of the G.I. Bill was race neutral, the administration of benefits was discriminatory, and Black World War II veterans were often denied opportunities. Institutions adopted the Federal Housing Administration’s racial exclusion programs, known as redlining, which excluded Black veterans from accessing the housing loan guaranty program. Black veterans were also denied access to educational benefits at certain universities on the basis of their race and were instead directed to vocational schools and chronically under-resourced historically Black colleges and universities. 

Introduced by Congressmen Seth Moulton (MA-06) and James E. Clyburn (SC-06), The Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023, extends access to VA home loans and the Post-911 GI Bill education assistance benefits to Black World War II veterans, and to their surviving spouses and certain direct descendants, who were denied benefits in the original bill.  

“Black Americans fought valiantly on the front lines during World War II only to be rejected benefits they rightfully deserved upon coming home,” said Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn. “The GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023 seeks to right this generational wrong by ensuring survivors and descendants of this injustice have access to the same housing and educational benefits their white counterparts enjoyed. I’m grateful for this bipartisan group of Attorneys General from states across the nation, led by Massachusetts AG Andrea Joy Campbell, for their unequivocal support of our legislation.” 

“We all know the GI Bill lifted up a generation of WWII veterans and built the American century. But most Americans don’t know that many Black veterans were left out: denied benefits, denied homes, denied the generational wealth that comes from going to college,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. “While we can never fully repay those American heroes, we can fix this going forward by passing our GI Bill Restoration Act. I’m grateful for the leadership of Attorney General Campbell and support of the other AG’s who have signed on to this letter. Together we can build the momentum needed to move this important legislation forward.” 

The Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023 would: 

·        Extend access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program to the surviving spouse and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans who are alive at the time of the bill’s enactment, if they can certify that the veteran was denied a specific benefit on the basis of race;  

·        Extend access to the Post-911 GI Bill educational assistance benefits to the surviving spouse and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans alive at the time of the bill’s enactment, if they can certify that the veteran was denied a specific benefit on the basis of race; 

·        Require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining the number of individuals who received the educational and housing benefits as a result of this bill;  

·        Establish a Blue-Ribbon Panel of independent experts to study inequities in the distribution of benefits and assistance administered to female and minority members of the Armed Forces and provide recommendations to Congress and the President on additional assistance to repair those inequities.  

The bill is named in honor of two Black World War II veterans. Sgt. Woodard was beaten and blinded in uniform by South Carolina police who dragged him from a bus in 1946. Sgt. Maddox was accepted by Harvard University, but denied financial assistance from his local Veterans Affairs office because the agency wanted to “avoid setting a precedent.”   

“How heartening to know that Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell and her colleagues are seeking to right a historical wrong of the 20th century that yet continues in this 21st century. Black World War II veterans of “The Greatest Generation” defended democracy abroad and were discriminatorily denied a deserved fruit of democracy at home—G.I. Bill benefits. Those veterans and their heirs were and are being denied benefits and intergenerational wealth,” said Cornell William Brooks, Professor of Public Leadership and Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School and former president and CEO of the NAACP. “Attorney General Campbell and those who defend the rule of law must now defend those who defended our democracy.  I join the Attorney General and others in supporting the Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr., and Sergeant Joseph H, Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act. Our vets’ past sacrifice is today’s urgency.”   

“The U.S. military has offered meaningful pathways to opportunity, but those pathways have not been equally available to all veterans. Veterans Legal Services supports the efforts of Attorney General Campbell and Congressman Moulton seeking to right this wrong for Black World War II veterans and their families, providing long overdue access to housing and educational opportunities and benefits that they were wrongfully denied, and which undoubtedly would have promoted and advanced the well-being and economic security of these military families across generations,” said Anna Richardson, Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Veterans Legal Services. 

Today’s letter was also co-led by New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and joined by a bi-partisan coalition of the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

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