GI Bill opened doors to college, but black vets faced obstacles

GI Bill opened doors to college, but black vets faced obstacles

 

Black servicemen from WWII faced limited options and denial as they sought GI benefits after the war.National Archives


When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law on June 22, 1944, it laid the foundation for benefits that would help generations of veterans achieve social mobility.

Formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the bill made unprecedented commitments to the nation’s veterans. For instance, it provided federal assistance to veterans in the form of housing and unemployment benefits. But of all the benefits offered through the GI Bill, funding for higher education and job training emerged as the most popular.

More than 2 million veterans flocked to college campuses throughout the country. But even as former service members entered college, not all of them accessed the bill’s benefits in the same way. That’s because white southern politicians designed the distribution of benefits under the GI Bill to uphold their segregationist beliefs.

So, while white veterans got into college with relative ease, black service members faced limited options and outright denial in their pursuit for educational advancement. This resulted in uneven outcomes of the GI Bill’s impact.

As a scholar of race and culture in the U.S. South, I believe this history raises important questions about whether subsequent iterations of the GI Bill are benefiting all vets equally.

Tuition waived for service

When he signed the bill into law, President Roosevelt assured that it would give “servicemen and women the opportunity of resuming their education or technical training … not only without tuition charge … but with the right to receive a monthly living allowance while pursuing their studies.” So long as they had served 90 consecutive days in the U.S. Armed Forces and had not received a dishonorable discharge, veterans could have their tuition waived for the institution of their choice and cover their living expenses as they pursued a college degree.

This unparalleled investment in veteran education led to a boom in college enrollment. Around 8 million of the nation’s 16 million veterans took advantage of federal funding for higher education or vocational training, 2 million of whom pursued a college degree within the first five years of the bill’s existence. Those ex-service members made up nearly half of the nation’s college students by 1947.

Colleges scrambled to accommodate all the new veterans. These veterans were often white men who were slightly older than the typical college age. They sometimes arrived with wives and families in tow and brought a martial discipline to their studies that, as scholars have noted, created a cultural clash with traditional civilian students who sometimes were more interested in the life of the party than the life of the mind.

Limited opportunities for black servicemen

Black service members had a different kind of experience. The GI Bill’s race-neutral language had filled the 1 million African American veterans with hope that they, too, could take advantage of federal assistance. Integrated universities and historically black colleges and universities – commonly known as HBCUs – welcomed black veterans and their federal dollars, which led to the growth of a new black middle class in the immediate postwar years.

Yet, the underfunding of HBCUs limited opportunities for these large numbers of black veterans. Schools like the Tuskegee Institute and Alcorn State lacked government investment in their infrastructure and simply could not accommodate an influx of so many students, whereas well-funded white institutions were more equipped to take in students. Research has also revealed that a lack of formal secondary education for black soldiers prior to their service inhibited their paths to colleges and universities.

As historians Kathleen J. Frydl, Ira Katznelson and others have argued, U.S. Representative John Rankin of Mississippi exacerbated these racial disparities.

Racism baked in

Rankin, a staunch segregationist, chaired the committee that drafted the bill. From this position, he ensured that local Veterans Administrations controlled the distribution of funds. This meant that when black southerners applied for their assistance, they faced the prejudices of white officials from their communities who often forced them into vocational schools instead of colleges or denied their benefits altogether.

Mississippi’s connection to the GI Bill goes beyond Rankin’s racist maneuvering. From 1966 to 1997, G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery represented the state in Congress and dedicated himself to veterans’ issues. In 1984, he pushed through his signature piece of federal legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill, which recommitted the nation to providing for veterans’ education and extended those funds to reserve units and the National Guard. Congress had discontinued the GI Bill after Vietnam. As historian Jennifer Mittelstadt shows, Montgomery’s bill subsidized education as a way to boost enlistment in the all-volunteer force that lagged in recruitment during the final years of the Cold War.

Social programs like these have helped maintain enlistment quotas during recent conflicts in the Middle East, but today’s service members have found mixed success in converting the education subsidies from the Post-9/11 GI Bill into gains in civilian life.

This new GI Bill, passed in 2008, has paid around US$100 billion to more than 2 million recipients. Although the Student Veterans for America touts the nearly half a million degrees awarded to veterans since 2009, politicians and watchdogs have fought for reforms to the bill to stop predatory, for-profit colleges from targeting veterans. Recent reports show that 20% of GI Bill disbursements go to for-profit schools. These institutions hold reputations for notoriously high dropout rates and disproportionately targeting students of color, a significant point given the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the military.

In August 2017, President Trump signed the Forever GI Bill, which committed $3 billion for 10 more years of education funding. As active duty service members and veterans begin to take advantage of these provisions, history provides good reason to be vigilant for the way racism still impacts who receives the most from those benefits.The Conversation

Joseph Thompson, Assistant Professor of History, Mississippi State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will Front Runner Emerge From Final Debate?

Will Front Runner Emerge From Final Debate?

TIE BREAKER: Will one candidate take the lead after tonight’s foreign policy debate or will it be a race to the finish on Nov. 6?

The Goal: No Missteps

“After an estimated $750 million in television advertising targeted at voters in nine battleground states, the national conventions, and two prior debates, the race is winding up much as it began, in a dead heat,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in advance of tonight’s final presidential (foreign policy) debate in Boca Raton, Florida. “Foreign-policy issues have been secondary to domestic economic concerns for most voters, but strategists for both sides know that any misstep or triumph in the 90-minute debate is likely to be magnified in such a tight race and with an expected audience of about 60 million,” the article said.

The Reality: Foreign Policy Matters

“Listening to the last presidential debate, you’d think the only foreign policy issues President Obama and Mitt Romney have to discuss is when the word ‘terror’ was first used to describe the attack on the Benghazi consulate and which man has invested more money in China,” opined The Washington Post editorial board. “In fact, within months the occupier of the White House will have critical decisions to make on entirely different issues, from Afghanistan and Iran to Syria. We’d like to believe Monday’s debate will force the candidates to talk about some of those choices.”

Obama’s Challenge: Fight the Headwinds

“For months the one reliable constant for Barack Obama was the public’s approval of his handling of foreign policy and terrorism,” Associated Press reported. “But with 15 days left before Election Day, the landscape has changed” and “the president will be facing headwinds from abroad instead of the breezes that once had been at his back.” The reason? Libya and more.

There are five things the president needs to do to solidify his second debate rebound from his first disastrous performance, wrote Keli Goff at The Root: “win back women … mobilize minorities …  fight for a few white men …  own foreign policy … re-energize young voters.” I’m not sure how he does four of those in tonight’s debate, but he is a gifted politician, so we’ll see.

Romney’s Challenge: Swing Voters Don’t Care

“Romney’s top advisers authentically worry that the swing voters they need to woo care little about foreign affairs right now. And, even if they did, the differences between the two men on many of the highest-profile issues — ending the Afghan war and the bloodshed in Syria — are too slight to draw sharp distinctions,” Politico reported.

The Questions: Do They Matter?

At The Atlantic, meanwhile, James Fallows said debates have always been more “atmospherics and performance” than policy position enlightenment, but they have their place. “What we do have in these encounters is a chance to see how two candidates deal with each other, and with real-time pressure, and with sometimes unexpected questions or challenges,” said Fallows. And, by the third debate, candidates are pretty comfortable, so policy points sometimes get sussed out. In addition to journalist Bob Schieffer’s proposed list of questions about “America’s role in the world,” the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, the Middle East and terrorism, and the rise of China, Fallows (quoting a friend) would like to hear the candidates talk about defense spending, the criteria for the use of force, war powers of the U.S. president, and civil/military relations.

What do you think?

Will the candidates’ foreign policy positions influence your voter or will domestic policy take priority in the voting booth?

Olympic Overcomers: Three the Hard Way

Olympic Overcomers: Three the Hard Way

RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE: Lopez Lomong. (Photo by Paul Merca)

During these exciting London Olympics, there has been a little something for everyone: unexpected victories, unexpected disappointment, scandal, and comedy. That’s why we love the Games so much, right? Many inspirational and moving moments have emerged that encourage us to consider the strength, power, and resolve associated with the human mind, body, and spirit.

Countless stories will surface framing the many successes and failures of these competitors from all over the world. But three under-reported stories of hope that grabbed my attention this week were those of Lopez Lomong, a 27-year-old Lost Boy of Sudan competing in the 5,000-meter race for the U.S. track and field team; Afghani female sprinter Tahmina Kohistani; and 22-year-old judo champioin Kayla Harrison of the U.S.

A Lost Boy’s Discovery: Lopez Lomong

In an article posted at Christianity Today, contributor Cornelia Becker Seigneur tells the moving story of Lomong’s long road to triumph in her feature, “Lost Boy Olympian Lopez Lomong Runs to Save Lives.”

Lomong’s journey began in 1991, when rebels in the second Sudanese civil war attacked his home village of Kimotong. “I was 6 years old when I was abducted at church, which met under a tree,” Lomong said.

“They ripped my mother’s arm from me, throwing me and other boys into a truck; they blindfolded us, then drove us to a prison camp that trained rebel soldiers.”

Lomong and 80 other boys were beaten and forced into a life of fear and abuse. He speaks about his daring escape, when he and three older boys whom he calls his “three angels” ran for three days non-stop to safety.

“The savannas are very tough. [My] legs and feet were bleeding,” said Lomong. “When I wanted to stop, my angels carried me.”

Lomong never returned home to his mother or his village, instead he and the three other boys “hobbled into the United Nations-sponsored Kakuma refugee camp near Nairobi, Kenya,” where he remained for 10 years.

“They brought me from harsh wilderness to the Promised Land, then disappeared like angels,” he said. “They are my inspiration for what I am doing now. God was with them to help me.”

When Lomong turned 16, he heard of an opportunity that afforded 3,500 boys a chance to move to the United States, all they had to do was write an essay about their lives. Lomong wrote his in a style of a prayer to the Lord asking that He would guide his footsteps in the long journey that awaited him. Lomong was selected and relocated to the United States. There he was placed into the foster care of Robert and Barb Rogers of Syracuse, New York.

He had long dreamed of becoming an Olympic runner. After an impressive career at Northern Arizona University, where he won an NCAA championship in 2007, he would compete in the 2008 Beijing games and now in London.

After finishing 17th in his first ever-Olympic race in 2008, he formed his own non-profit organization called the Lopez Lomong Foundation. Now a Christian, he has also partnered with World Vision to form a new Sudanese charitable foundation called 4 South Sudan, which seeks to provide clean water, healthcare, education, and nutrition for the South Sudanese.

“When I run now, I keep thinking about the children who I had to leave behind, those who did not have the opportunity I had,” he told Christianity Today.

“Running is a talent that God has given me,” he said. “In the Bible when you are given a talent, you can put it in your pocket and not use it or you can use it. I am trying to use mine.”

New Vision for Afghan Women: Tahmina Kohistani

BREAKING DOWN BOUNDARIES: Tahmina Kohistani of Afghanistan. (Photo by Oliver Morin/Newscom)

Another compelling story of triumph is that of Afghani sprinter Tahmina Kohistani. In a post at Yahoo! Sports, reporter Les Carpenter writes about the hardships Kohistani faced on her road to the Olympics.

In a society driven by religious and cultural affiliations proposed by Muslim men, it is against societal rule for any woman to exercise, let alone compete in an athletic event. Kohistani is different because she resists her country’s traditional ideals and embraces more liberated ones. She is the only female competitor from her country participating in the 2012 games.

Carpenter writes that “in many ways [Kohistani] is the ideal of a new Afghanistan, one molded in the months after the initial U.S. invasion during which years of the Taliban’s oppression of women was washed away.”

“It’s difficult to be a woman in Afghanistan,” said Kohistani. “Every second 10, maybe more than 10 women are killed in every province of Afghanistan because they have a lot of illness,” which she believes is due to a lack of activity.

“Exercising is the best way to keep them healthy,” Kohistani said. Her uncle, Hasibullah Kohistani said that although he loves her “stubborn determination,” he’s proud of her accomplishments thus far and believes that she is fighting for something big, writes Carpenter.

Her father, who is an Afghan politician, didn’t approve of his daughter’s running at first, but after seeing how much she loved it, he became a supporter. Though he worries about his daughter’s safety and security, he also does not want her will to be broken.

According to Carpenter, Kohistani dreams of bringing other Afghani women out of their houses after this Olympics and into the nearest gym and recreation center. “She is going to get them running and exercising and living [the] lives they were told they could not have,” he writes.

Kohistani realizes that she stands little chance in winning the 100-meter race, however she believes that she’s doing something that will make a difference. Says Carpenter, the end result of her race is not what matters; what matters “is the message that will come with the simple act of settling into the starting blocks.”

Making History: Kayla Harrison

COMEBACK KID: Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison.

One last story that represents true courage and perseverance is that of Olympic gold medalist, Kayla Harrison. Harrison is the current reigning champion in women’s judo and the first American ever to win a gold medal in the sport. In a remarkable match Thursday night, Harrison put on an impressive display of skills to subdue her opponent, crowd favorite Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain, in the 172-pound women’s final.

But Harrison has not always experienced a life of triumph. Starting at age 13, she was sexually abused by a former judo coach who is now serving a ten-year prison sentence. According to NPR reporter Karen Given, after Harrison’s mother found out about the abuse, “she saw judo not only as the means by which an abuser had gained access to her daughter, but also the means to her daughter’s recovery.”

In another article about Harrison’s historic victory, USA Today sports writer Gary Mihoces describes how at age 16 Harrison began working with a new coach, Jimmy Pedro, who began “lifting her spirit and honing her skill.” The result was a world championship in 2010 and a bronze medal the following year.

Harrison now credits her coaches and family for their support throughout tough times in her journey. She says her goal now is to help other kids like her realize their Olympic dreams. “I want to help kids overcome being victims. I want to help change people’s lives.”

If nothing else, the stories of these Olympic athletes should encourage us to remember the unwavering ability of the human spirit to dream, mend, and persevere. Lomong, Harrison, and Kohistani have proven that they were champions long before they set foot into a gym or onto a track.

Do These Lives Matter?

Do These Lives Matter?

MOURNING THEIR LOSS: Afghan men gather in the Panjwayee district of Kandahar for a memorial ceremony for the victims killed by a rogue U.S. soldier on March 11. (Photo: I. Sameem/Newscom)

As Christians, we believe every life has value. We believe every life represents a soul, and that Jesus is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Despite external circumstances, God shows no partiality to anyone; he loves us all equally.

But what about us? Are we “respecters of persons”? Do show favoritism? Are we prejudiced? Our actions often indicate something altogether different than what we’re called to as people of faith.

Imagine this:

It is nightfall. You’ve just finished saying prayers with your family and putting your three kids to bed, and you and your spouse are in your own bed. Life hasn’t been especially kind to you and you are no stranger to death and loss, but it seems that things in your village are finally settling down. You drift off to sleep, not realizing that you will never wake up. You don’t know that your spouse will not wake up. And worst of all, your precious small children, innocent in their youth, filled with promise and aspirations, will never wake up.

A soldier from another country has slipped out under the cover of night and murdered you and your family, along with others — a total of 17 people — in an act that even he can’t explain.

One must believe that, worldwide, there is outrage. There are protests, and there is a plan to address this massacre of innocent human beings. After all, you’re just like most citizens of the world; you aren’t fighting in a war. You’re in your own home. The world is full of good people, who must certainly shudder when thinking of this tragedy, right? Surely, people of all faiths, including Christians, were heartbroken over the crime and took swift action to ensure that these types of acts don’t happen again … Right?

After hearing of the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians, 9 of whom were children, my heart sank. I expected outrage from folks across the world. I expected that the American soldier guilty of the crime would be castigated by millions of people; I expected that churches and several prominent organizations would demand justice for the lives of those lost.

But I heard little. The mass killing occurred on March 11, 2012, and aside from a few reports on NPR, and an initial investigation from major media outlets, the story has been all but forgotten.

The few stories still revolving around the murders are examining whether or not the soldier is suffering from post dramatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the psychological dangers of multiple overseas tours. It’s certainly important to have concern for the mental health of our soldiers, but somehow in the spin of the news cycle, those 17 innocent Afghans have been conveniently moved to the background.

A few weeks earlier, back in the Western Hemisphere, another shooting occurred. By now, everyone’s at least moderately familiar with the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain spotted Trayvon walking around their gated neighborhood, decided he looked suspicious, and reported him to the local police. While the 911 calls are recorded, other details are murky. We do know that Zimmerman followed Trayvon at least for some time, there was some type of scuffle, and in the end, 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin lay dead and Zimmerman alleges that he killed Trayvon in self-defense.

The news circulated throughout the Black community, largely due to social media, and within a few weeks was picked up by major media outlets. And once it was picked up, there was no stopping the provocative story. In a matter of days, everyone had some type of understanding of the Stand Your Ground Law, Zimmerman’s background, Martin’s background, and everyone had an opinion on it. Many people, including our President, have alluded that Trayvon could be their son or brother. Celebrities took to Twitter to comment on the saga. People updated their Facebook profiles with images of themselves in hoodies. On blogs and websites, people have argued passionately that Martin was a martyr and Zimmerman a racist, or that Martin was a thug and Zimmerman a hero. We’ve analyzed and asked questions about this case from every angle, and for good reason. A young, unarmed man has been killed and it’s possible that race was a motivating factor.

UNFATHOMABLE TRAGEDY: The bodies of an elderly Afghan man and a small child are pictured in Alkozai village in Kandahar. They were two of the 17 people massacred on March 11. (Photo: Mamoon Durrani/Newscom)

And yet … 17 citizens in what seems like a faraway land are dead. We are silent.

Humans are wired to empathize with people who are like themselves. As Americans, it is understandable that we are most concerned about what goes on in the lives of Americans. But what about our role as Christians?

The divides created by nationalities and various faiths should matter infinitely less once we decide to follow Jesus. Do we think Jesus wept more for Trayvon than for those families in Afghanistan? Do we really believe Jesus has a special place in his heart for people from a particular part of the map? Does Jesus care more for those who are dark brown than those who are light brown?

The answer is clear. The Bible verse says, “God so loved the world.”

Just as Jesus’ love is unconditional and inclusive of everyone, so should ours be. The Black community has done an excellent job in addressing what many believe is injustice in the killing of Trayvon Martin. After all, it’s relatively easy to support a cause when you believe that you could be the next victim.

What we need to work on is our ability to address injustices against people who may not look like us, or worship like us, or live next door to us. The very thing many are accusing George Zimmerman of doing — prejudging another human being based on stereotypes — is what we do when turn a blind eye to suffering that doesn’t feel personal.

Our Summertime Blues

As unemployment grows, partisanship deepens, and war lingers on, things certainly don’t look as hopeful as they did 20 months ago when Barack Obama took office. But there’s still hope. We just need to remember where to look for it.

Remember January 2009? That month, the country witnessed the historic inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America. “The skinny kid with a funny name” upended the political establishment, running on a campaign of hope and change. So many of us expected that his administration would usher in a new, golden era of progressive policy and thought in Washington. No more politics as usual, we all agreed. Some heralded the start of a new, “post-racial” era in American life. It was hard for even the most jaded pessimist not to get suckered in.

Fast-forward to the present: summer 2010. While there have been some landmark victories and accomplishments, they have been overshadowed by the plethora of watered-down compromises and outright defeats. Politics has indeed departed from its usual course, but only in that the level of partisan bickering seems to have reached an all-time high. Plus there’s rampant unemployment; the massive national deficit and the accompanying looming specter of what that means for our future; and a war effort that is only getting worse with no easy exit strategy. On top of that all, along came the Shirley Sherrod incident, eradicating any holdouts still desperately grasping onto the myth of a “post-racial” America. Now the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy threatens to pull us further apart as a nation.

And it appears despair is contagious, because progressives aren’t the only ones suffering the doldrums. Americans of all ideological backgrounds and partisan bents seem to be in dour moods. A majority of people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Politicians from both sides of the aisle (and even those in the middle), are quaking in their boots as the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment has swept the nation. It’s simply a hard time to be an optimist.

For the average citizen, it is tempting for us to bury our heads in the sand. To lament the sad state of affairs that has developed and to promise that we have learned our lesson. We won’t get involved, we say. After all, what’s the point? Nothing will change; nothing ever changes. Besides, aren’t our own lives — the stresses and pressures of day-to-day living — complicated enough?

It is in times like these that we should remember Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians. He encourages them to be persistent in their efforts and endeavors, writing: “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

Just as Paul urged them to persevere in their efforts despite the negativity around them, so too must we not take our hands from the plow despite what we see or what the pundits say. There is simply too much important work to be done. Immigration reform. Revamping our nation’s outdated and damaging environmental policies. Reforming our schools. Restoring the livelihoods and habitats destroyed by the black, oily trail along the Gulf Coast. Our country can’t afford for people of good conscience to abandon their advocacy on these issues.

While we have been suffering through a summer (and perhaps a spring and winter) of depressing news and bleak outlooks, we must remember that a new season is just around the corner. And, lest we forget, autumn is harvest time.