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Education, racism, and the military: A critical race theory analysis of the GI bill and its implications for African Americans in higher education

Dissertation
Author: Bernadette Kristine Buchanan Mencke
Abstract:
This study examined the impact of the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill) on African Americans' quest for higher education. The central question guiding this study follows: Why has higher education been so elusive for African Americans? With reference to this question, the following sub-questions were addressed: (1) How can the "counter narrative" approach uncover "truths" about the GI Bill's lack of effectiveness for the African American community? (2) How did the racial climate of the 1940s and 1950s impact African American veterans and their pursuit of post-secondary education? (3) How did African American veterans counter instances when race and racism intersected during their pursuit of higher education? (4) How does the lingering influence of the GI Bill impact higher education for African Americans today? This qualitative study followed a Critical Race Theory (CRT) design. This methodology uses five tenets to interrogate the intersections of race and racism and bring about social change: counter storytelling, critique of liberalism, interest convergence, permanence of racism, and whiteness as property . The participants in this study were four African American World War II servicemen who served in the 1940s. These individuals were eligible for their GI Bill benefits and used some of it for educational purposes. In general, the veterans explained how racism had a direct affect on their educational level prior to being drafted into the military and thus limited their ability to use the GI Bill to pursue higher education after the war. The veterans critiqued the unequal distribution of GI Bill benefits, stating that race was the determining factor in their ability to use the GI Bill. Although, the GI Bill helped them continue their education, only one of the veterans used the GI Bill to complete a four-year degree; the remaining three used it to complete high school. In addition, the counter-narratives presented in this study bring to the forefront inconsistencies in the majoritarian story about how the GI Bill made higher education available to the masses. Instead, the study enables African American veterans to provide another perspective on the underrepresentation of African Americans in higher education today.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................................................. iii ABSTRACT .........................................................................................................................v LIST OF TABLES ............................................................................................................. ix CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................1 Statement of Problem ...................................................................................4 Purpose of Study ..........................................................................................5 Significance of this Study ............................................................................6 Research Design and Methodology .............................................................7 Limitations of the study ...............................................................................8

2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE ..........................................................................10 1890 Schools ..............................................................................................10 Development of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 ..................14 African Americans and the GI Bill ............................................................18

3. METHODOLOGY ..........................................................................................26 Methodology and Theoretical Framework .................................................26 Whiteness as property ................................................................................29 Permanence of racism ................................................................................30 Interest convergence ..................................................................................30

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Critique of liberalism .................................................................................31 Methods and Procedures ............................................................................32 Role of Researcher ....................................................................................34 Participants .................................................................................................35 Data Collection .......................................................................................... 38 Data Reduction and Analysis ..................................................................... 39

4. RESULTS ........................................................................................................ 43 Permanence of Racism ............................................................................... 44 Whiteness as Property ................................................................................ 49 Interest Convergence ................................................................................. 54 Critique of Liberalism ................................................................................ 63 Counter narrative ....................................................................................... 66

5. DISCUSSION .................................................................................................. 71 Suggestions for further research ...................................................................... 79

REFERENCES ................................................................................................................. 82

APPENDIX A. IRB APPROVAL ............................................................................................. 87 B. PARTICIPANT CONSENT FORM ................................................................ 89 C. INTERVIEW PROTOCOL ............................................................................. 91

ix

LIST OF TABLES

3.1 Participants’ Demographic and Educational Information .......................................... 36

x

Dedication

To my family… muuuuahhhhh!

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CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Throughout the development of American higher education, advancements in legislation have endeavored to promote African American access and achievement. For example, the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1890 led to the construction of Black colleges, and where most African Americans were afforded their undergraduate education especially in the South (Lucas, 2007). The Morrill Act of 1890, ―strictly prohibited the distribution of federal funds to states that did not provide separate accommodation for African American if the primary state institution denied admission to African American‖ (Turner, 2002, p. 151). Justin Morrill, a senator from the State of Vermont, led the federal charge to provide an education to newly freed African American slaves. His act stopped funding for any established land grant that used color as an admissions requirement, without the establishment of a separate college for African Americans. As a result, 17 colleges were established for the agriculture and mechanical arts (A&M) (Davis, 1933). These schools were primarily extension campuses from the previously established land grants in 1860. On many occasions, the main campus would keep up to 95% of the federal funding and give the remaining 5% to the 1890 school (Wennersten, 1991). This was the first of many shortcomings the 1890 schools faced, especially when it came to receiving the allotted funds from the federal government. There were many states that established laws to keep African Americans out of the educational system, local government, and home ownership sector. For example, in Mississippi, the Mississippi Plan was set up as a system that purposefully excluded African Americans from state politics (Altman, 1997). Furthermore:

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The Mississippi Plan (literacy and ―understanding tests‖) lasted until November 1 st of that year and was later adopted with embellishments by other states: South Carolina (1895), Louisiana (1898), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910). Southern states later used ―White primaries‖ and other devises to exclude African American voters. Once Whites regained control of the state legislatures using these tactics, a process known as ―Redemption, ― they used gerrymandering of election districts to further reduce African American voting strength and minimize the number of African American elected officials. In the 1890s, these states began to amend their constitutions and to enact a series of laws intended to re-establish and entrench White political supremacy (Altman, 1997, p. 1).

These types of laws did not allow for the political activism and legislative body to reflect the needs of all the citizens of the state. In terms of advocacy for African American colleges and universities to expand, there was no one there to lobby and suggest ways of implementing a plan to keep the schools expanding and continuing to meet the needs of its constituents. Turner and Bound (2002) conducted a quantitative study on the GI Bill and the educational outcomes of African Americans soldiers in 1944. They analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and noted:

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A survey of historically African American colleges in 1945 found that 45 percent of institutions enrolled fewer than 250 students and 92 percent of the institutions had enrollment of less than 1,000 students (Turner & Bound, 2002, p.152).

Such numbers are staggering, and they are perpetuated as one seeks to understand why African Americans have been disenfranchised and are currently under- represented in higher education. Wennersten (1991) explains that African American colleges established 25 years after the Civil War ended encountered many problems with recruitment. After a lifetime of slavery, going into a college specifically geared towards agriculture and mechanical arts did not sound appealing to college age students. As a result, trying to convince parents to enroll their children in the 1890 schools was difficult because many saw the curriculum as another way to keep them enslaved. At the same time, many African Americans bought into private and liberal arts schools that were established and funded by the Freedmans Bureau, northern religious organizations, and sympathetic Whites. These schools led in educating African Americans for that era. Due to the high illiteracy rate of over 90% at the end of the civil war, and the lack of educational facilities available to African American people, the focus of the 1890 schools was to meet the needs of its student body. The student’s curriculum was mainly focused on primary and secondary education. By 1916, there were only 12 students enrolled in the 1890 schools that were taking courses at the collegiate level (Davis, 1933; Jenkins 1991). Among data presented on African American employment, Wennersten (1991) found that at the end of the Civil War, there were 100,000 African American artisans. By the turn of the century, the skilled African American had been virtually eliminated from the southern labor market. Whites did not want to

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compete against skilled African American labor, so they did what they could to eliminate African Americans from the labor markets. Many times, this meant that if an African American business was too successful, Whites would literally burn it down. In addition, White people with property wanted plantation tenets, not self reliant, property owning African American farmers. As time progressed, the Reconstruction period was failing African Americans. The southern states were ignoring federal legislation in reference to funding educational opportunities from elementary to college. There was intentional elimination of the skilled African American labor force of the south, and the establishment of policies similar to the Mississippi Plan across the south continued to disenfranchise African American politics. One can deduce that African Americans were going to have trouble as they tried to establish themselves, post slavery, in a country that had a clear caste system.

Statement of Problem There are a disproportionate number of African Americans in higher education. When the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, was introduced, college was seen as a place for the elite. Melissa Murray (2008) in When War is Work, points out that once implemented, the GI Bill was seen as a force that made modern America by expanding opportunities for social mobility as well as deconstructing the belief that college was for the elite. Moreover, the GI Bill is notably known for the creation of the middle class, thus transforming higher education into a place for everyone. At the same time, there were governmental policies and practices in place that kept thousands of African Americans from having the opportunity to fully engage in the pursuit of what is now known as the American Dream. Because of the legacy

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of racism, then, schooling continues to be problematic for African American students, particularly those students attending predominately White schools (Anderson, 1988, Ladson- Billings & Tate, 1995; Shujaa, 1994). For such students, feeling culturally alienated, being physically isolated, and remaining silenced are common experiences. These feelings are often exacerbated when African Americans attend predominately White, elite independent schools (Dartnow & Cooper, 1998, 2000). Given the insidious and often subtle ways in which race and racism operates, it is imperative that educational researchers explore the role of race when examining the educational experiences of African American students (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004, p. 26).

Purpose of Study Using Critical Race Theory, which will be explained in the research design, the purpose of this study was to examine the impact of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 on African Americans’ quest for higher education. A historical analysis of the GI Bill was conducted to investigate its equity. An examination of the GI Bill has presented three important findings. First, the Bill was presented to a segregated body of United States citizens; almost every aspect of life in the U.S. in 1944 was separated. The military, K-16 educational facilities, churches, and public transportation are only a few of the many venues impacted by segregation. Second, the legislation limited educational opportunities for African Americans because it opposed educating its African American citizenry. Third, when veterans tried to use their benefits earned from military service, there was a lack of resources available to them either because of: (a) existing segregationist principles and state and federal laws, (b) not being allowed to purchase property with their GI Bill in their neighborhood of choice, (c) educational level

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prior to the military was not in the first year college level due to the lack of funding for African American K-12 educational facilities, (d) African American colleges at the time were very small and enrolled on average 250-1000 students (e) if a veteran had a Bachelors degree and wanted a Masters or Professional degree, most programs, especially in the South, were for Whites only or not available in their state. The primary research question guiding this study follows: Why has higher education been so elusive for African Americans? With reference to this primary question, the following sub- questions were addressed by this study: 5. How can the ―counter narrative‖ approach uncover ―truths‖ about the GI Bill’s lack of effectiveness for the African American community? 6. How did the racial climate of the 1940s and 1950s impact African American veterans and their pursuit of post-secondary education? 7. How did African American veterans counter instances when race and racism intersected during their pursuit of higher education? 8. How does the lingering influence of the GI Bill impact higher education for African Americans today?

Significance of Study The significance of the study was to gain insight into the experiences of African American veterans using the GI Bill in the 1940s and 1950s. During the pre Brown v. Board of Education era, racism and racial politics played a large role in setting the stage for African American education. This can be seen over time and particularly once the GI Bill was implemented, however, the majoritarian perspective has dominated the discourse about the

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impacts of the Bill as well as served to influence perspectives on African American education and educational attainment today. Knowing this, it was important to create synergy around this topic and bring to light the facts that surround and influence perspectives on African American achievement in higher education.

Research Design and Methodology This qualitative study followed the design as outlined by Critical Race Theory (CRT). This methodology uses five tenets to interrogate the intersections of race and racism and bring about social change. These tenets are counter storytelling, critique of liberalism, interest convergence, permanence of racism, and whiteness as property. In order to successfully implement CRT as a methodology one must fully accept and analyze these tenets. For this study I conducted one-on- one interviews, as well as investigated case law and public policies related to the implementation of GI Bill. The participants of this study were four African American World War II veterans. I conducted two interviews with each of the participants in order to get a rich description and understanding of their experiences with the GI Bill as it relates to education. My research was inspired by CRT and the idea of storytelling because:

Necesitamos terias [we need theories] that will rewrite history using race, class, gender, and ethnicity as categories of analysis, theories that cross borders, that blur boundaries – new kinds of theories with new theorizing methods … We are articulating new positions in the ―in-between,‖ Borderland worlds of ethnic communities and academies… social issues such as race, class, and sexual difference are intertwined with the narrative and poetic elements of a text, elements in which theory is embedded. In our mestizaje theories we

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create new categories for those of us left out or pushed out of existing ones (Anzaldua, 1990, pp. xxv-xxvi).

Moreover, I have presented a number of challenges in this research that frame the research problem. As I will demonstrate in the review of the literature, despite the efforts of African American veterans and their desire to apply and enroll into post-secondary institutions, many were denied.

Limitations of the Study The limitations of this study became clear during the data analysis. The veterans shared a lot about their educational experiences, often times those experiences included being the recipients of racism. Not being alive during this time affects my ability to comprehend the intensity of the acts and therefore limits my ability to understand when they use the term racism. In the review of literature for this time period, discrimination and racism was mentioned in virtually all aspects. As I continued to comb through the narratives and began to analyze the information, it became very clear to me that I did not quite understand what exactly racism was or could be. In my case, I have experienced covert racism and therefore I thought that I understood racism and all of the emotions therein. Over time, as themes became more clear, the only thing I was clear about what that I really did not know, what I thought I did. The examples of when race and racism intersected in the narratives brought bigotry into focus and how it ruled their daily life. It was through trying to gain an understanding that I realized that my 33-year-old mind could not quite comprehend what they were giving up every day, just for a chance at getting an opportunity.

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Another limitation of my study is that all of the veterans I found were currently living in Washington State. Before the Civil War, the United States was split into the North and the South. The South had the largest concentration of African American citizens, and this was the epicenter of acts of racism against African Americans. It would have been nice to interview a veteran that made their home in the South to see if there were any similarities or differences regarding how they were able to use the GI Bill.

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CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 1890 Schools My research study delved into texts that illuminate the hegemony intertwined in the African American quest for higher education. For 240 years, from 1619-1863, African Americans in the United States of America were enslaved and served a dominant role in the development of the agrarian south. Slavery was a time when it was illegal to educate a slave in anything besides menial domestic work (McGee & McAfee, 1977). Once free at the end of the Civil War, there were four million people with a 90% illiteracy rate left to function in a capitalistic, mostly agricultural, region of the US. Looking after the interest and education of the newly freed slaves was left up to the Freedman’s Bureau. The Freedman’s Bureau, established in 1865, consisted of free African Americans, philanthropic Whites, and northern religious organizations; they made it their mission to assist this population in acquiring the skills to ensure servitude of this magnitude would never happen again. After the Civil War ended, there was a large push by the Freedman’s Bureau to educate African Americans. In 1865, the illiteracy rate was 90%. By 1880, it was 65%, and in 1916 it was down to 16.3% (Wennersten, 1991; Davis, 1933). These great strides, in such a short period of time, were needed to educate this newly freed population. There was also a natural inclination to develop colleges for African Americans. In 1933, Davis’s study on The Negro Land-Grant College says that preceding the Civil War, there were 18 African American colleges established by philanthropic and religious organizations and between 1870 and 1890. An additional 13 colleges were founded by Southern African American church organizations. In that same vein,

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Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont introduced the second Morrill Act in 1890. The purpose was to publically fund land grant colleges specifically for the education of African Americans. This Act noted that no state schools receiving land grant funds would be able to discriminate on the basis of color in the admission process and continue to receive federal funding; however, this legislation contained wording that outlined and supported a school’s decision to establish a separate college for African Americans. Williams and Williamson’s (1998) study shows that, as a result of The Second Morrill Act, African American land grant colleges were established. Of the seventeen schools funded for African American students, sixteen land grants schools and the Tuskegee Institute were given 25,000 acres for public instruction. Many universities changed their extension campuses into their African American agriculture and mechanical arts college, hereafter referred to as 1890 schools. Some states gave their funding to existing African American private schools (Davis, 1933; Jenkins, 1991). Based upon this new legislation, the existing Southern land grant schools began the transition of their extension campuses into their 1890 school because their main campus funding would have ended if they did not establish a place for African Americans to be educated. This was a great establishment for African Americans education in America because it was beginning to provide government funded opportunities. Davis (1933) notes that 1890 schools mostly served as land grant high schools due to the poor educational circumstances, the lack of elementary and secondary schools, and because of there location in rural communities. There was a need to get the people of the state educated; this desire worked towards meeting the needs of the citizenry. Jenkins (1991) reports that by the turn of the century, of the 4,875 students registered at the A&M colleges, approximately 2,500 were

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at the high school level. Close to 2,200 students were at the elementary level, and only 12 were taking college level courses. According to Wennersten (1991), many of the students found that the reputation and academic focus of existing private African American colleges were appealing and it was clear that these schools were leaders in producing graduates in the liberal arts. The 1890 schools were being promoted to the African American community as schools that would focus on agriculture, mechanical arts, and home economics. This did not fare well with many in the African American community. Because African Americans were recently released from 240 years of servitude in the role of a farm hand and a housekeeper, the curriculum in which the students would be educated was a tough sell to parents, especially with the rise of industrialization. In addition, many students wanted to be educated in the liberal arts, and saw the 1890 schools as a ploy by the federal government to keep African Americans in a service role. There were two compelling and competing thoughts about the educational direction of African Americans during that time: liberal arts and agricultural education. Jenkins (1991) brings to the forefront that most African Americans wanted a liberal arts education; however, there were individuals like Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute, that reinforced the beliefs of racist White people by supporting the work in agriculture and the service industry. Conversely, there were African American college presidents who had other ideals and wanted the students to have an accessible liberal arts education. At times, African American presidents were fired because they pushed for a liberal arts focus for their students, only to be replaced by another president with a similar view on liberal arts education (Wennersten, 1991). Eventually, the desires of those who wanted the liberal arts were heard and

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Congress passed four very important pieces of legislation to expand the scope of the 1890 schools. This legislation also provided funding for these opportuntities. The first piece of legislation was the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. Davis (1933) outlines that this Act was passed to provide funding for those who were not enrolled in a college through demonstrations and instruction in agriculture and home economics. During this time, the main campus would receive funding, but little money was disseminated to the 1890 schools. This legislation was meant to encourage the states to increase spending and expand the scope of the A & M. One prime example of how the funds were divided is the University of Alabama, where the main campus was given sixty-five thousand dollars for their budget while their 1890 school was given four thousand dollars. Even as federal funding increased, the African American schools funding remained at four thousand dollars annually. Williams and Williamson (1988) summarize the attempt by the federal government to provide additional funding through the passage of the Adams Act of 1906 and the Purell Act of 1925. However, this money never made it from Washington, DC to the 1890 schools. It wasn’t until 1935 that the Bankhead Jones Act finally outlined how the money needed to be disseminated. It was not until the 1930s that all of the 1890 schools received accredidation and were up to the educational level that was meeting the needs of African Americans trying to complete college level work. The Second Morrill Act of 1890, Smith-Lever Act of 1906, Adams Act of 1907, Purell Act of 1925, and the Bankhead Jones Act of 1935, as a whole, did not meet the goal of educating African Americans in the agricultural and mechanical arts. There are three main reasons why these goals were not met: African Americans did not want to continue into higher education only to go into service related jobs, Whites held racist beliefs about the education and contributions of

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African Americans, and the Acts designed to advance African American educational pursuits failed to provide funding and protection. The need for more legislation, in the form of the Acts previously listed, and forcing states to provide funding was futile. Furthermore, as the schools moved into the twentieth century, the segregationist principles were still at play and the schools never received more than 50% of their allotted funds (Wennersten, 1991; Davis, 1933). This data suggests that the advancement of African Americans in higher education was impeded by the hegemonic practices of the dominant culture. Despite these obstacles, there were advancements. Although these schools are still facing the lack of funding and some have even closed their doors in recent years. The existance of these schools has always been important to the development and education of the African American community. It is unfortunate that at the time of the GI Bill’s implementation, these schools were not growing at the same rates as their White counterparts. Simultanously, 1890 schools were not able to build and promote an African African middle class in the same manner that White land grants developed the White middle class.

Full document contains 105 pages
Abstract: This study examined the impact of the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill) on African Americans' quest for higher education. The central question guiding this study follows: Why has higher education been so elusive for African Americans? With reference to this question, the following sub-questions were addressed: (1) How can the "counter narrative" approach uncover "truths" about the GI Bill's lack of effectiveness for the African American community? (2) How did the racial climate of the 1940s and 1950s impact African American veterans and their pursuit of post-secondary education? (3) How did African American veterans counter instances when race and racism intersected during their pursuit of higher education? (4) How does the lingering influence of the GI Bill impact higher education for African Americans today? This qualitative study followed a Critical Race Theory (CRT) design. This methodology uses five tenets to interrogate the intersections of race and racism and bring about social change: counter storytelling, critique of liberalism, interest convergence, permanence of racism, and whiteness as property . The participants in this study were four African American World War II servicemen who served in the 1940s. These individuals were eligible for their GI Bill benefits and used some of it for educational purposes. In general, the veterans explained how racism had a direct affect on their educational level prior to being drafted into the military and thus limited their ability to use the GI Bill to pursue higher education after the war. The veterans critiqued the unequal distribution of GI Bill benefits, stating that race was the determining factor in their ability to use the GI Bill. Although, the GI Bill helped them continue their education, only one of the veterans used the GI Bill to complete a four-year degree; the remaining three used it to complete high school. In addition, the counter-narratives presented in this study bring to the forefront inconsistencies in the majoritarian story about how the GI Bill made higher education available to the masses. Instead, the study enables African American veterans to provide another perspective on the underrepresentation of African Americans in higher education today.