Honoring The History & Legacy of Black Veterans – Beyond the Scenes | The Daily Show

By | November 8, 2022

In honor of Veterans Day, we observe the contributions of Black service members like The Harlem Hellfighters and the Tuskegee Airmen. In this episode, Host Roy Wood Jr. chats with the cofounder of the Black Veterans Project, Richard Brookshire and the author of “Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad,” Matthew F. Delmont. They discuss the racism and segregation Black soldiers have had to face in the military, how Black Veterans were excluded from GI Bill benefits, and how the GI Bill Restoration Act would be a step toward repairing the damage done to Black Veterans and their families.

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Hey it's Roy quick note about today's Episode of beyond the scenes the subject Of suicide and suicide attempts are Discussed briefly so if you want to Tiptoe away from this episode you can And if you want to stay let's get Started Hey welcome to beyond the scenes the Podcast that goes a little deeper into Segments and topics that originally Aired on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Here's what this podcast like this Podcast is like when you were a kid and The bell rang for recess and now you in The courtyard Drinking Your Juice Box And you're playing Foursquare with your Friend Aaron who you're convinced it's Gonna be your most goodest best friend For the rest of your life then he moved Away and he never told you goodbye Still think about you man if you're out There just Just know I love I'm sorry what were we Talking about yeah I'm Roy Wood Jr and In honor of Veterans Day we're talking About a CP time segment that honored the Contributions of the black soldier roll The clip in World War One the 369th Infantry Regiment fought so Fiercely that the Germans called them The Harlem Hell Fighters And when a German says you know how to Whoop ass that means something The Great War also provided many black

Fighters with their first chance to Travel abroad And once in France our brothers in arms Found something they had never seen Before Respectful white people It was so enjoyable in Europe that a lot Of black soldiers didn't come back Which I understand I went to Belgium for two days ended up Staying the whole summer with Helga Even if she knew how to iron that Belgian waffle Oh my waffles I was there for three Months Then my wife found out I'm sorry baby please please let me come Home Today I'm joined by the co-founder of The black veterans project and former Infantry combat medic and U.S army Veteran Richard Brookshire Richard how You doing I'm doing good I'm really Happy to be here excited well good to Have you here I'll tell you my Veterans Day story about the parade in high School where I stepped in the horse turd But first let's welcome our second guest Their professor of history at Dartmouth College and author of the new book half American the Epic story of African Americans fighting World War II at home And abroad Matthew F Delmont Matthew Thank you for joining us thanks for

Having me it's good to be here right oh Well a pleasure to have you all and Let's get into this discussion you know The contributions of veterans I think Are often Minimized and remixed in our society and Done so even more for black veterans Matthew I'd like to start with you your Book is titled half American Talk to us a little bit about how you Settled on the title of that book and What the experience was like for black Service members in the military during That time where you know the racism and Segregation was just as entrenched Within our Armed Forces as it was in Just general American society so the Title of the book half American comes From a letter that a man named James Thompson wrote in December 1941 shortly After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Thompson writes a letter to the Pittsburgh Courier which was the largest And most influential black newspaper at The time what Thompson asks is should I Sacrifice my life to live half American Is the America I know worth defending What he's saying is he is a black American he's thinking about what it Means for him and other black Americans To get drafted into a military that is Entirely racially segregated the Army is Segregated it only particularly allows Black Americans to serve in Supply and

Logistical roles by and large you're not Allowed to participate in combat in the Navy uh Black Americans aren't allowed To volunteer and be drafted into the Messman branch where they essentially Will wait on and serve white officers And at the start of the war black Americans aren't allowed in the Marine Corps at all this is an affront to the Patriotism and service of black Americans that they want to be able to Do everything they can to help protect Their country to serve the United States At this time of War but the military Doesn't do what they can to acknowledge Their service and to take advantage of The the skills that black Americans can Bring to the military effort once those Black troops get drafted into the Military what they find is that Conditions on those bases are just as Bad if not worse than they are in Surrounding towns and cities in in the Country their story is a bound of black Troops being sent to these Army Camps in The South and they're fearing for their Lives they get attacked by towns people They get verbally abused and physically Harassed by white officers they're Called racial habitats every day things Get so bad that they're actually anxious And excited about the prospect of being Able to deploy to battlefronts in Europe Or the Pacific because they think it's

Going to be safer there than it is in Mississippi Alabama Georgia and they Didn't start letting black troops in Until after the war start you know how Racist you got to be to because it's Like no you can't die for America we'll Do it for all right all right we getting Is well come on over here black folks All right we're gonna let you in just a Little I'm not sure if that was the Exact memo of how it was discussed but It's definitely an interesting dichotomy In the sense that you want to have pride For something that is also you want to Have pride in a place that is also you Know mistreating you Richard as a Veteran when you enlisted how much was The thought of the inequities that still Troubled America how much did that play A role in you choosing to enlist or even Being hesitant to enlist initially yeah I mean I think like the first thing I Can think of is I I joined shortly after Obama was elected and so it was like This momentum like we have a black you Know commander-in-chief the first black President so maybe there was something I Even say I was also young and young People tend to join you're talking about Even in World War II the predominant Like the majority of folks that were Joining or were like 19 and 20 and 21. These are young people right so I think I was naive around the inequities and my

Story kind of bears out kind of all of The lessons learned over the last decade Uh since I I I went to Afghanistan and Talking with other black soldiers was There any sense of community or is it Kind of every man for himself when You're dealing with inequities within The armed services I think it depends on Where you end up getting stationed uh When I was in training I think that you Know we kind of congregated based off of Race that just naturally folks kind of Gravitated to the folks that they were Kind of wanting to be around and then I Ended up being stationed at a small base In Germany former Nazi base actually in Baumholder Germany where it was Predominantly white I had only a few Black soldiers that I could even uh Befriend let alone kind of build Community with and that was actually Probably the beginning of the Awakening Right because I was kind of thrust from Going up I was a a student at Morehouse About a year and a half before and then Suddenly I dropped out of Morehouse and Found myself at the middle of bomb Holder Germany around a bunch of Midwestern white boys and it was just it Was different I remember that first like Six months that first six months going Into the going into work and like the Kinds of conversations that these folks Were like engaging in like you know it

Was just kind of spewing the things that They were hearing on Fox News it was Happening back in 2010 right uh right Right after Obama had got elected and All those things so Um it was discouraging I remember coming To work and kind of like just it was it Was always kind of an Awakening every Single day with how ignorant folks could Be how prejudicial folks would be how Sexist and homophobic folk could be Um let alone how racist folk could be so After about about six months I just I Stopped engaging in the dialogue because It was exhausting and I had to prepare To go to war right and to with these Same people right so um I felt like I Was just a kind of a losing battle to Try to feel like I could change their Minds or all they needed was one more Conversation for me or one more one more Book to read or one more book Recommendation to you know edify Themselves and you know these folks Weren't really interested in in learning How do you have like in upon enlisting How do you possess a sense of pride In something that is not fixed within That organization like if we just go With the Harlem Hill Fighters right all Right Harlem Hell Fighters they go over To France during World War One they whip A lot of ass they get a lot of medals And then they come home and they can't

Even be in their own parade For the homecoming to even celebrate That you made it back safely to America And then you look at groups like The Tuskegee Airmen who had a lot of their Accomplishments overlooked and it was a Long time before we really in my opinion Properly gay those Brothers their Flowers so how much did you identify With the black person's relationship With the military of the past and Reconcile that with the present and you Know and why are these black service Members why are they so important to Military history I think what's powerful About black military service is that Black Americans have always been Fighting two Wars at the same time They've been fighting for equality Within the military but they've also Been trying to fight to make America Actually of up to its ideals I think That's true in world war one with the Hellfighters it's true in World War II With Tuskegee Airmen and all of the more Than million black Americans who served And it's true after the military becomes Desegregated that even once military Desegregates in 1948 and you see some Improvements the kind of military that Richard was a part of still has racial Discrimination as a key part of it it is Still facing of the challenges with Regards to racism that are fully sort of

Enmeshed in the culture of the military And so I think is powerful about the Fact that black Americans have continued To serve the country is that they're They're truly demanding the country be a Better version of itself they are trying To articulate and trying to bring into To into being a better version of the United States and Richard same question To you how did knowing those stories of The Journey of black people through the Military You know how much did you feel a Connection to that you know early on [Applause] Um I think that it really actually Happened after I'd gotten out Um I came I came back Um finished my last three years in the Military while I was kind of Matriculating the beginning of the black Lives matter movement was kind of Proliferating in the country Um I was kind of struggling to reconcile My service Um I wasn't connected to a lot of vets Right like even fewer vets that served Now that they did back then so there Wasn't a lot of community to discourse With or engage with and it really what Was the impetus to my project was the Desire to kind of better understand the Inequities that were that that so I'll Start with uh you know unfortunately I I

Had a suicide attempt about a year after Getting out of the military like I said I was really really struggling to Reconcile my service and you know PTSD That I had had and um just didn't feel Like I was getting the support that I Needed and when I was in the psych ward I didn't have TVs we didn't have any you Know anything to engage so I had people Bringing me books and I read a book when Affirmative action was white it's a book By Ira Katz Nelson a professor out of Columbia and there are two chapters in It that focused on the GI Bill and Essentially this is wide social welfare Program right after World War II that Enabled many people to get gain access To zero via back home so the ability to Buy a home for the first time to Billy Go to school and yeah the first time That I really like sat with the history That black folk were mostly locked out Of that so shortly after getting off the Psych ward I um I went to an event Because I was unemployed and the event Was for unemployed vets and it just Struck me that the majority of that room Was black and so for me it was like yo There's this history that I just engaged With that's very clear I'm in the midst Of this black lives matter movement the Ascension of trump is happening trying To figure out how I can be of utility And reconcile my service and then I'm

Seeing like you know get to Googling for A couple of weeks trying to do research And seeing that there's really no this History isn't connected to the present Day and how can we be having a racial Justice conversation Um as a country and it seems not to be Happening in this institution which Historically has always had a race Problem and then kind of talking about Some of my experiences as well I was Beginning to connect the dots in like This invisible kind of issue of race Still permeating in the military and Wanting to do a project that would Really kind of tie the historical threat For people and make things plain and Simple Um and so that's what we've really been Trying to do for the last five years Let's talk a little bit about that for a Second because your time in the Army you Know after that you wrote a you wrote a New York Times article a couple years Ago entitled serving in the Army as a Queer black man opened my eyes to racism In America now within your time enlisted Were you openly queer and if not what Type of layers that that add uh to being Within the military I came out when I Was 16 and I and I think part of even my My experiences at Morehouse was trying To reconcile what that meant right to be A young black man and to be gay so I

Came in with a good sense of myself and I think that's partly why I survived the Military Um and then but I had that came in at The height of don't ask don't tell I Couldn't be out you know in the military And that was something that I was aware Of going into it Um but it took about two years between Training and that first year being at my Duty station getting ready for war and You know ultimately you know you don't Only hide so much right and so I was Facing a lot of sexual harassment a lot Of folks the kind of rumors were Floating and the way people in which People were engaging with me Um and on top of I think like some Racist based actions and like just some Some things that a lot of Black Folk Face when they're like you know Significantly diminished or like uh They're not we're not we're not mentored In the same ways we're kind of set up For failure in a lot of ways um so I Definitely think like me being gay Played a role up until that point but Right before I went on deployment I was Like yo I might go to Afghanistan and Die so I'm not about to go there without Folks you know the people that I'm Working with directly knowing that you Know I'm gay and I'm not something that I'm ashamed of uh so I came out to to my

To my direct unit of the folks that I Was working with uh specifically the the Physicians because I was a combat medic And my other Medics and they were Largely supportive right but I was also It just it just so happened that a Policy had passed where they don't ask Don't tell was still in place but it was Under review and so they weren't kicking Anybody actively out right and it's just That that window of time and then the Policy actually changed on my birthday In Afghanistan about nine months into my Deployment did you here's here's a Here's a Here's a personal question but I I feel Compelled to ask you by dealing with Discrimination from sexual orientation And then dealing with discrimination Well sexual orientation rumors and then Dealing with Racial discrimination you a combat medic To regret Signing up for the one MOS that requires You to maybe help somebody that might Have been talking to you the day Before on base hmm I never resented being a combat medic Because I think I got to like you never Had a moment where you're like these are The people I got to save if they get Shot No I mean I would say one of the most Racist people that I engage with was

Actually a physician that was in charge Of all of us right so like you know some Tuskegee I remember uh Martin Luther King day and I'm a more house man Martin Luther King's on TV I want to give him a Shout out and it was playing in the in Our aid station and he was like turn That Troublemaker off and he it Literally like what he said right and he He said that uh it was like something Out of a movie I was like what is Happening because he started talking About how uh Martin Luther came down There and he was older older gentleman Uh came he came down to I think he was From Alabama Um and said they came down and made all This trouble and my Mammy got all worked Up and he was talking he basically he Had a man me I never met someone who had One Um but he had gracious yeah it was just Like something like that right but Here's somebody in charge of like the Career trajectory of these soldiers let Alone the kinds of engagements that we Might have with soldiers of color queer Folks whatever local Afghan populations And and what have you Um so yeah that opened my eyes but I Never regretted being a combat medic I I At the end of the day helping people is Helping people so Yeah you ain't you ain't never seen

Somebody that was on the battlefield Messed up and then you just welcome to Talk that you was talking about Uh never had the opportunity nah nah nah Um Let me just stop right there Matthew uh Before we go to the parade you know Everybody talks about the struggles of The black man but if the black man got It bad on a Monday and Tuesday then the Black woman Got It Bad all week Who were some of the other Unsung black military heroes in the Military during that time particularly Black women let's let's take a moment to Educate people on you know just not only What was necessarily going on on the Front lines with black men but also with Black women in any and all support Capacities if not come back so within The military there were thousands of Black women that participated in the Women's Army Corps the largest group was A group called the 688th central postal Directive Italian that was under the Command of major charity Adams in this Group job once I got sent to England in 1944 was to distribute mail throughout The European Theater which is actually a Really difficult thing to do because you Had troops moving all the time these Units were moving back and forth across Across France and Germany as the Azor is Progressing and he had a lot of guys

With common names so they would be Trying to determine which Bob Jones was Achieving this mail or which Tom Johnson Was receiving this mail but they Developed these systems to get mail Distributed throughout the European Theater and end up moving about 65 000 Pieces of mail per day throughout the European theater it was really important For troop morale both black and white Soldiers talked about the importance of Receiving mail from home in terms of Morale but those black women had to face The kind of racism and sexism they would Have encountered in the United States as Well and so in terms of where they could Stay when they were in England they had To fight to get access to hotels get Fight to get access to the Red Cross Aid Stations and so every step to them was a Battle within the military but they they Performed an extremely important role in Industrating the mail throughout the European theater on the home front there Are more than a million black Americans Participated in the defense Industries And 600 000 of them were black women and For them the war industry has really Opened up important job opportunities That just weren't there before the war By and large black women had Opportunities outside the home only Either in agricultural work or being Domestic servants for white families and

So a lot of these black women were Workers essentially they were like black Rosy derivators they said the war is What got them out of white people's Kitchens and so those again were month By month week by week battles to get Access to these really well-paying and Important War jobs so black women's work Was was crucial to winning the war 4 Well after the break I want to talk a Little bit about you know we've talked a Little bit about what the military was Like and we've gotten a little bit of What it was like specifically for you But I want to talk about what the Military is doing right now to trying in Some of this discrimination and what Other veterans are dealing with once They're on the other side of their Military service this is beyond the Scenes we'll be right back Beyond the scenes we are back we are Talking about what it means to be black In the military black men in the Military black and queer lgbtqia Plus in The military what it means to be a black Woman In the military and we were talking you Know during the break there Richard just A little bit also not only how black Women were dealing with So many issues in trying to help the Military during that time but it seems That a lot of the issues that affected

Men also intersected with them as well Absolutely one of the things that a lot Of people don't know are that black Women under the policies that don't ask Don't tell were disproportionately Affected there's a new study that is a Getting ready to be published that shows That uh women broadly are in the last Five years have been up to four to five Times more likely to get a dishonorable Discharge or other than honorable Discharge meaning they're getting into The military and leaving without access To their benefits there's still a a wide Variety of issue around sexual assault In the military and the military hasn't Done a good job of really forthrightly Addressing that issue and so you have All not only just discrimination kind of Rearing its ugly head but all these Other issues and ways in which uh black Women can and are marginalized that are Often invisible to folks yeah it's then Let's stay right there in that pocket Matthew because I've always Joke isn't the right word but I've Always said on stage that you know Something going wrong in the military Because they got their own court and They own jail what other job you know Got their own jail I'm like damn is everybody breaking the Rules so how does the legacy of racism And white supremacy how does that still

Haunt our military today I think there's A through line in terms of how criminal Justice works in the military uh how It's worked historically how it works in The present in the World War II time Period to pick up on what Richard was Just saying one of the ways that black Americans retreated unfairly was what They called Blue discharges these were Written on blue paper but they Essentially kicked people out of the Military without having to go through The court martial process for black Troops who they consider to be Troublemakers and so the two primary Populations that receive these Buddhist Charges were gay and lesbian troops at The time because that wasn't allowed During World War II and then black Troops anyone who organized or push back Against the kind of racist treatment They're receiving on base would receive One of these discharges and that was a Lesson honorable discharge which meant That they had no access to the benefits That they had earned and worked for During the war fast forward into the Present and a lot of those same issues Remain with regards to how military Justice is carried out along lines of Race I think this is where you see as Much as the military has progressed I Think there have been significant uh Aspects of progress from the World War

II era to the present it's still an Institution that has a lot of the Existing racial prejudices of the nation That in many ways it can't not have Those when you're bringing together this Wide cross-section of demographics uh Race gender sexuality from all across The country if you get people in power Who have pre-existing racial biases That's going to lead to disparate and Unequal treatment for people of color in Particular once they're in the military And they get you see it reflected in the Kind of legal punishments and and court Martials and other lesson notable Discharges that the black troops Continue to get today we were talking at Work about the NFL and black coaches Right and how that's a problem in terms Of having more black coaches means that There has to be changes at the top Higher than the level of Coach so that's GM team president owner or League Officials right so when you talk about Eliminating racism that's structural and Institutional how much of this Falls on People let's just say at the Pentagon Level to stop like if you look at like Say January 6 right January 6th I think It was like over 20 people that were Active military Not like foreign No you was just at base yesterday I'll Be right back Lieutenant got to run down

To DC for someone James I'll be right Back here like How do you adjudicate that how do you Punish that how do you regulate that When it's so ingrained when you have Monuments named after all of these Confederate generals like how do you Start and I hear you're breathing Already like how do you Change any of this culture where the the Solution even begin it's complex right Um I think that we're the focus of the Project that I've been carrying out over The course of the last few years has Been is looking at the history first Um and so you know kind of focus almost Exclusively on Veteran Affairs issues Like these the the harms that have been Done when it comes to the military Itself like race is a factor from Recruitment to retirement and there are Multi-faceted prongs when you have Conversations about how to address those Things right so let's just take Recruitment for instance we know based Off of geospatial map study that was Done on the city of San Diego the Majority of recruitment that was Happening in black neighborhoods were For service oriented roles right Um in low-skill low low age really roles And they were recruiting officers from White affluent neighborhoods right so we Haven't been able to extrapolate that

Study outward um to see what what's Happening in other cities but we can Kind of take that as a model right we Know that just within the military Itself has a broken equal employment Opportunity system right the the ways in Which folks can make complaints and Adjudicate complaints without fear of Retribution the statistics show that Folks don't trust that process trust Folks don't trust that system right so You're getting funneledents in the Military oftentimes with only access to Kind of uh service oriented roles you Have uh the academies really that uh These military academies which more of The the top brass end up kind of being Funneled through uh have a race issue Really with recruitment Um and in the ways in which they target Black populations to attend those Schools so that that ends up having Impact 30 or 40 years down the line when These people become the heads and Leaders of the military Um and then you have a white nationalist Problem in the country you know the the Pentagon doesn't want to be you know Forthright and honest about right Um and the ways in which they tackle it Because there is a very uncomfortable Discourse around what does that mean Around politics because what I what I Found and ways in which people were

Being radicalized and I and I tell this This story because it's an important one Like I served on a on a former Nazi Based in Germany right it was not Uncommon to see people walking around With mineconf and reading it like for a Leisure right and just wiping out in the Open like like Sports Illustrated yeah Yes yes and and there were folks that Were just in you know and they would say Oh I'm just gonna take it back you're Not not like a book on tape nothing not Like a Kindle I mean for all I know they Had they had all those things but yeah Bringing it to work and reading it it Was it was normal right fast forward Four years I'm getting out I'm going to Work one day uh shortly after getting Out the military I pull up in a paper And I realized there was a gentleman who We'd gone to basic training at the same Place at the same time I never I don't Believe I've met this person but Um we ended up being stationed at Baumholder which is a very small base in Germany at the same time in the same Unit deploying to Afghanistan at the Same time getting out of the military at The same time you know fast forward Three years he becomes a white Nationalist comes to New York to murder A black person oh just a random black Person radical lies right and to me That's when everything started to I

Started to connect the dots more that Like you know the radicalization that's Happening in the military conspiracy Theories were rampant in the military Like I literally would be talking to Commanders and they'd be talking about Like oh uh FEMA camps are real and like You know and these are people that are Interested with thousands of you know The leadership of thousands of people Potentially hundreds of people so you Know it's just Yeah radicalization in the in the in the In the in the Army is really I think the Big issue but I look at like something Someone like Bishop Garrison he got Appointed last year uh an appointment The first of its kind to report directly To Um the the Secretary of Defense and he Lasted less than a year in that position A black man who was appointed to oversee Uh you know uh the issues around race The issues around diversity and Inclusion and within a year he's being Kind of pushed out it you know I you Know it's it's there's no easy solution But there has to be a willingness to Have the conversation and that's that's Something that's continuously pushed off Because Ray still plays a major role Right a major role for folks and and They want they want to keep that racial Hierarchy and there are folks in the

Military that that abide by that there's Deep historical roots for this as well So there were countless stories of black Troops during World War II who saw white Troops run up the Confederate flag Either alongside or instead of the Stars Stripes once they took over these towns In France and you just have to stop and Imagine what did that feel like what That's what that look like to these Black troops to see their their fellow Soldiers or their white countrymen Praise the the Confederate flag and and They absolutely knew what they were Doing right both sides did that everyone Understood that that was a signal for Slavery and for a racial hierarchy that Was could be traced back to the to the Jim Crow South Part of what was important about the Military finally disregate in 1948 is They recognized that racism and Segregation made the military a less Effective fighting force that during the War segregation was stupid it made no Sense strategically right you were doing Everything in duplicate it was just like Complicated they were segregating blood From white and black blood donors even Though there's no scientific basis to do That It's not because of political Correctness or anything else that led Them to the secret decorate it was due

To intense political pressure from from Black activists but also to the fact That military leaders finally identified That you know we can take better Advantage of the the Manpower of the Country if we actually are are Integrated that they were turning away Black Americans with phds with language Skills with degrees from Harvard because They they didn't want to have black Americans serving certain units and so I Think to Richard's Point there's been a Lot of backtracking in the last couple Decades that one thing that comes out of Vietnam is you have once the um the Military becomes an all-volunteer Force You start to see vastly more numbers of Black Americans and latinx Americans Participate in the military you see many More minorities in the military in the Past three decades we also see the Development of a very intense and Increasingly public white nationalist Strain in the military and it's hard for The military to have both those things Coexist you can't ask people of color to Serve disproportionately to the Percentage of the population while also Still cultivating and not doing anything To to counteract an intense white Nationalist thread in the military I Think if there's any hope for where the Military might go future it's trying to Recognize that it's it's really Mission

Critical for for the military to to be a Space where racism isn't part of the Day-to-day culture that you want this to Be a space where we're all Americans who Who choose to serve can do so proudly I want to say one more thing racism is a Spectrum right you have white Nationalists but you also have the Everyday person who might have racial Biases but the way the way that they Move the way that they engage compounds Over time and affects a black a black Person's career potentially in the Military right so when we have these Conversations about racism it's often Like it's it kind of very easily goes to The white nationalist conversation when Like the everyday racial bias and the The the the the the attempts to try to Intervene in that with education are Being intervened right like are are not Being taken seriously and I think what What happened at West Point last year Was a perfect example when there was a Class being stood up to essentially kind Of engage with the concepts of critical Race Theory it ended up on the Congressional floor right with like Members decrying that like how dare we Try to see to to teach the the former Leaders of of our military about the History of race in his country and the Systemic ways in which it shows up and So anyways I just wanted to put that in

The conversation about racism racism Being a spectrum on the other side of Your military career when you retire and We've kind of graced the surface a Little bit but let's dig in on this what Are some of the inequities and the types Of benefits black veterans have received Throughout history my uncle is an army Veteran and God blessed Miss Mandan Spent about the last five six years Trying to prove that he has what they Don't think he has and he keeps getting Sent to every single VA doctor that Ain't got an appointment and ain't get Well you had to get a second opinion you Got to do this paperwork it's just a Long ass dance and not only what are the Inequities that black veterans have Received throughout history but what Impact has that had on Veterans access To housing and education and health care And and just just general economic Opportunities historically it's had a Huge impact so the GI bill was perhaps The most important piece of legislation In our nation's history is what enabled A whole generation of white veterans to Come back and enter the middle class to Be able to raise themselves up and raise Their families up because it provided Access to low interest va-backed home Mortgages provide access to college Tuition benefits loans be able to start Businesses and a range of health care

Benefits and other benefits as well but The way that legislation was written it Was largely authored by Southern Democratic politicians who are Segregationists and so they made sure That legislation was distributed not at The federal level but at the state and a Local level which meant that these local VA officials could discriminate Discriminate once black veterans came Into these local offices and so you have Countless stories from 1946 47 of black Veterans going to their local branches And just getting the run around either Being denied outright or being steered Into vocational programs what they're Trying to do is go to a four-year College they're being told that they Can't use benefits for certain certain Reasons in terms of mortgages probably The largest portion of the benefits all Across the country black veterans find It impossible to get mortgages to live In the majority of neighborhoods it's True in New York and New Jersey it's True in California that has a dire Long-term impact in terms of the racial Wealth Gap there's a group at Brandeis University called The Institute for Economic and racial Equity that's been Running some studies to try to calculate What the long-term impact of this is and What they found is that black veterans Benefits from the GI Bill for World War

II vets was only worth about 40 percent Of what white veterans got and over a Lifetime that was about a hundred Thousand dollars per veteran now you can Imagine what that means in terms of what Black veterans from World War II could Pass on to their their families when you Look at the what should be very Upsetting numbers in terms of the racial Wealth Gap in the country a huge part of That can be traced back to the GI Bill And so historically this is really a Fulcrum point in terms of how the Country either could have moved closer To racial equity in terms of wealth the Way their policy was written we moved in The other direction so the GI Bill Opened up gaps between veterans that That shouldn't have been there based on Their service yeah and to piggyback off That I think we uh Matthew and I had a Discussion last week and he had Mentioned that and I never really Thought about it but it makes perfect Sense because a lot of folks assume that Okay well they weren't able to go to White schools with the GI bill but there Was an infrastructure at hpcs to absorb The number of black vets that were Returning and so what you had was not Only the stripping of of generational Wealth that could be passed down through Home Loans but also The Disappearance of A professional class that could have

Arised from you know access to college Education in Mass February for the first Time and I think that has a direct Correlation to de-industrialization what We see in inner cities Um throughout the 50s and 60s and 70s And urban plight it has a direct Correlation because that generational Wealth compounded the ability to to be Able to educate yourself out of Circumstance compounded Um and then I I like to start like Around around Vietnam like you know go From World War II to Vietnam the Nation's first fully integrated war and Black vets were disproportionately being Kicked out the military continuously Over a hundred thousand of them kicked Out without access to their benefits We've been talking predominantly about The GI bill right which is a huge social Welfare program very important but Disability compensation is another Avenue of income in the thousands of Dollars potentially a month that folks Are not getting access to and we were Able to prove that there was a Statistically significant disparity with Respect to the denial rates that black Vets were facing and one of which were That over the over a five-year period From 2015 to 2020 black veterans are Almost 30 percent less likely to get Disability for something like PTSD and

That's just in the most recent conflict Right so we're going to the same War as An and dealing with like all the things That you just said discrimination and And a lack of access to genuine Opportunity and that has a a Psychological effect as well but these Things aren't being taken seriously when You go to the the VA to talk about like I have PTSD it might look different from A white vet or maybe it does look the Same as a white vet but I'm still being Denied this disability Um compensation and so the the case That's getting prepared now is actually A gentleman who served in Vietnam by the Name of Conley monk who I think is one Of the most important black vets in Modern American history he served two Tours of Vietnam got kicked out his last Month in his second tour he went from The age of 19 to 21 serving two tours in Vietnam uh like I said he was from New Haven and Um a white Superior called him the Edward he got in a physical altercation 40 years later he still doesn't have Access to his benefits five years ago in 2015 he was eight or about six years ago He was able to win a landmark case with Yale that gave uh anyone who had been Discharged a dishonorable discharge or Other normal discharge Um who had post-traumatic stress

Disorder or traumatic brain injury Access to their benefits what that means In real time is that they compensated Him for three years of the back pay that They owed him uh but they still owe him From all the pay that he didn't get all The way from 1971. right so now he is Levying a suit against the VA a and his Brother is suing on behalf of their Deceased father who was a World War II Veteran and didn't get access to the GI Bill because another thing that we don't Talk about is general service is also Intergenerational so you have the same Families often being you know being Stripped of access to these benefits and Then it being compounded over time and So yeah Richard you were fortunate in The sense that your mother took you in After your suicide attempt and was there To be an integral part in your growth And helping you out of the PTSD and Helping you out of the depression and Helping you back into the world of Employment There are a lot of veterans that do not Have that type of care and concern Within their family tree How has the VA failed black veterans in The scope of just mental health like at Any point before your suicide attempt Did you ever feel like well maybe I Should just go to the VA and then a Voice in your hair going nah they ain't

Gonna be able to do for me was There ever hesitancy did you go to the VA that you seek out Mental Health Services before the suicide attempt it Was the attempt the first fissure you Know in your stability at that time I Did Um I didn't know that I had PTSD but I Went to the VA I sat down with the Psychologist there and was basically Told that I had something called Adjustment disorder which I don't know What that is but I've talked to people Since they were like well that's a form Of PTSD but a lot of that's a that's a Term that they basically use to say oh Well we can't really help you don't have A lot of resources or whatever I just Felt sidelined it took so much courage To try to go and actually have the Conversation because it you know people Are proud I'm a proud person I didn't Want to admit that I had something wrong Especially being a combat medic because I got to see folks who were really Messed up right so in my mind I'm like Well I'm not a mess up as them so I'm Gonna be okay I'm gonna go figure it out But I went and was dismissed and then Found myself even in in what led to my Suicide attempt was then they started They gave me an antidepressant which in The in the long term I found out I was Bipolar but they gave me an

Antidepressant that made it 10 times Worse and that which led to my attempt So it was just like mismanagement kind Of all around because the things that I Was expressing and trying to make Playing wasn't being taken seriously I Was just you know so so yeah and I think By way of how the VA has failed I mean I Think it has not wanted to address the Fact that it has a race issue there was A survey of va employees about two or Three years ago and of them it's like Something upwards of 70 said that they Dealt with racism or they saw Discrimination on their on in their Everyday jobs right of the of the Employees that were actually surveyed What does that mean for the black vets That have to actually go and get get and Get service there and a story that Actually happened recently this last Year there was a older black uh veteran That went to the VA was was basically Seeking help for PTSD and they'd Forgotten about him he was there for Hours he ended up killing himself inside The VA right and so these are just kind Of anecdotal conversations about just Systemic failures because you know our Pain isn't seen as the same or what our Experiences aren't as validated there's Not enough cultural competency within The VA and I know there are efforts to Try to change that but there are actors

Just like there are actors Um that are entrenched in within the Department of Defense that just don't See race as an issue or purposely just Want to continue to have the disparities Continue to to ravage and if we hadn't Done the study with him put pressure on I don't know if they would have even Said hey we should address the fact that There's a 30 disparity with PTSD I don't Know Matthew what role does the American Public play And contributing positively into the Lives of veterans because like because Like we we know we are in America right You know we celebrate the veteran and we Love that veteran and then you go to the You go to the football game everybody Give it up for the veteran look at that Veteran over there sitting there Enjoying the game and we clap for that Veteran we pride ourselves on honoring Folks who risk their lives on the Battlefield But throughout history and we and we Know what's going on in the present day But throughout history what has been the Experience of black veterans returning Home to the experience of black World War II veterans attorney at home was That they were openly disrespected in The communities they came back to they Were on the wrong side of the GI Bill Policy by and large they were openly

Harassed by a lot of white communities Their stories of black Veterans as soon As they got back on on ships being Directed white veterans this way negro Veterans that way and oftentimes they Didn't use the plight term there right There's hearing racial habitats as soon As they get off as soon as they get off A boat they're being directed to not March their troops through white towns They have to take a circuitous path it Only goes through through black towns And there's at least a dozen black orgy Veterans who were murdered so I'm also Wearing their military uniforms because Too many White Citizens thought that These black veterans were going to be Leaders in the civil rights movement After the war and and black veterans Were they were they came back and they Demanded equal rights they demanded the Kind of freedom and boxer they're Fighting for abroad but the kind of Treatment these black veterans received Was was horrific and it was not fitting At their service I think thinking of the Present what does it mean for the American public to actually support Veterans and troops is to think about What it means to support individual Veterans and troops that I think too Often you find yourself a supporting Event everyone will clap for the Veterans when they stand up which is

Great in theory but then when push comes To shove and money's being allocated to The VA your money's being allocated to Support the actual lives of of veterans To make sure they have the resources They need to to re-enter American side And to be able to thrive professionally That's where we need the American public To stand up it's not enough to say that One supports the troops or one supports Veterans at a supporting event you're Kind of generically sport supporting the Category then what you need to do is Support the actual living people in your Communities who have served this country After the break I want to talk Solutions And Richard I want to dig a little bit More into your program and what you are Doing to help the veteran as my uncle Calls it veterans that's I think that's How black people say that V-e-t-ch vet Trends This is beyond the scenes we'll be right Back I want to end with a couple questions About what we can do you know with Regards to Solutions and Richard you Have spent a lot of time sitting and Building out this project that you've Talked about a couple you've already Mentioned it a couple times but let's Really pull back the layers on it you Know it's called the black veterans Project with everything you've laid out

Today in terms of the systemic issues With in it for enlisted officers and the Issues that retired officers deal with Are you optimistic about seeing progress Around the issues of racial Equity Within the military because you know You'll start a project I'm gonna solve The problem and then you look at the Problem you'd be like whoo yeah no Absolutely I mean I wouldn't be doing This if I didn't feel like we could have An impact I think I look at what we've Done over the last four years it really Started with the idea that you know when I was Googling black vet nothing really Showed up except a few miscellaneous Organizations of whom we've begun to Collaborate with some of them a lot of Older black that or black vets have been Organizing forever right there are black Vet organizations as old as out of world War one right I got to go to a a old American Legion that's a historically Black American Legion and they were Founded by returning black GIS who Didn't have anywhere else to go and they Formed community and they ended up doing Amazing things Um but my generation is what understands The internet right and so when I when I Started the project I realized that like Their history just wasn't being told and There wasn't enough coverage so I think You know we've been part and parcel to

The proliferation of a lot of Storytelling around specifically with The Press like working with the press And edifying journalists and and making Sure that folks are talking about this In the digital sphere around like this Is this historical contributions but Also like the inequities is making sure That the inequities aren't lost it's Very easy to to to put up a photo of the Tuskegee Airmen and say oh that's enough But then you're not talking about how Some of those men were obstructed from The GI building the compounding Generational impact right so I just Wanted to kind of force a more rounded Conversation Um and then you know what we've been Able to glean by way of data uh and then Kind of connecting researchers and folks That are really interested in Reparations for black vets because That's really at the heart of the work That we've been doing is that we I Believe and we believe that veterans are The best position to to push forward Black vets are the best position to push Forward a conversation about reparations In this country especially because we Don't have to go all the way back to Slavery we can talk about something that Was done in the last hundred years let Alone the last 50 to 60 years that has Been affecting uh black black veterans

But also we talk about black vets we're Also talking about black families black Community the black community right They're they're not they're not mutually Exclusive so so yeah uh so then to that Point Matthew can we can we legislate it Is is there anything being done on a Policy level to combat racism within the Ranks of the military because I always Feel like the military like you have the Federal government in my opinion you Have the federal government and then you Had the military and like the military Is always treated as this weird annexed 51st state if you will that has their Own jail their own Court their own Funding their own little network of Hospitals and everything how can BC Better legislate stuff you know even Beyond reparations is that even Happening right now yeah I mean in two Ways so on the sort of military side Absolutely theoretically the military is A taxpayer-funded institution and it Should be accountable to the kind of Treatment that Americans who serve their Country are receiving I think the Question of when the military observes Racism happening um whether it's those Explicit acts of racism or it's the kind Of day-to-day perpetuation of racism That harms uh black troops and people And people of color in the military and Prevents them from having long sustained

Beneficial careers those are things that The military can hold troops to account For that's going to take work it's going To take action it's going to take Leadership but the military is nothing If it's not a structured organization It's a hierarchical organization so if Military leaders say that this is going To happen and they hold their support Ordinance to account that is something That can change if the American public Demands it to change on the other piece Picking up what Richard was saying about Policy legislation there was legislation That was introduced last year called the GI Bill restoration act that would go a Long way towards addressing the wrong of The GI Bill the racial discrimination That happened there it was introduced on Veterans Day in 2021 just last year by Seth Moulton and James Claiborne and the House Representatives and by Raphael Warnock in in the Senate what that Legislation would do is it would provide Those Diego benefits to the descendants Of black World War II veterans who had Been denied those benefits so it enabled Them to be able to use it for Home Loans Or for college tuition that's a small Piece of a much larger conversation About reparations but reparations is About repair it's both a financial Aspect and trying to make right the kind Of benefits that these black veterans

Should have received but also it's about Acknowledging that this was wrong this Was something that black veterans had Earned through their service in World War II that had been denied to them and So just the possibility of passing Legislation beyond the very important Aspect would do justice to the service Of these black veterans and help to Repair that wrong I want to end optimistically What can we the regular people of the World do to properly honor and support Veterans other than letting them board First on the airplane and giving them 55 Cent coffee at fast food establishments Because we all know that's what fixes All of these issues Being able to get on the plane first What else Can we do Richard I'll start with you there are Abundance of policies that have been Pushed forward to try to address the Issue of race in the military but how Can the American public Um honor I think one it's edifying Themselves on um the necessity of Ensuring that a piece of legislation Like the GI Bill restoration act can Actually do some level of repair Um they have uh intent to try to break That bill up to try to pass components Of it next year specifically the housing

Provision and the 118th Congress which Would give quite literally potentially Millions of African-Americans access to Zero VA backed Home Loans but we already Know that there is still a rampant Discrimination with respect to black Folks access to Home Loans right we and Let alone home appraisals and and all These other things so what is the Private sector doing also to just ensure That the landscape is set so that this Reparations can potentially be Instituted in a way that can actually Have an impact because as it stands now We might pass this bill by the grace of God and the the impact that it could Have had is undermined by the lack of Public awareness and also a lack of real Due diligence with respect to how we Actually get the this benefit in the Hands of the families that have been Affected because it's also an invisible Wound right and I'll say this as the Last part it's like one and engaging With a lot of journalists specifically Around uh World War II and the harms of An access to the GI bill is that a lot Of families don't even know that this Happened to them right or can't even Fully articulate it and you have a whole Generation that very very close to not Being with us anymore right but their Families certainly bear the scars Economically at least of of an access to

The GI bill Um so I think the biggest thing that That that the American public can do is Is educate themselves engage with the History by the half American read a book And honestly I think that that is like The the best way so that we're not Engaging in ignorant-based discourse Matthew how do we support I'm a Historian so say the same thing I say to My students that the stories we tell About the past matter and so I think a First starting point is really Reckoning Honestly with the history of our country Particularly when it comes to military That black Americans people of color Have served this country proudly Throughout our nation's history they've Been deeply deeply patriotic but that Service hasn't always been repaid and so I think a starting point is recognizing That veterans have been treated Unequally throughout American history I Mean particularly with the story about World War II I think in the present I Think it's important to talk about Veterans as actual sort of living people I think we're at a point right now in Our country where the military is drawn From about one percent of the entire U.S Population so you have the one percent Who serves in the 99 of everyone else And we've fallen into this trap where Veterans are are treated as Heroes as a

Sort of generic category but then too Often ignored as individuals Particularly for black veterans and Veterans of color that is a disservice To Veterans and also to the large American public I think as citizens who Are not in the military or not veterans We have to treat Veterans as sort of Actual living and breathing people who Deserve the benefits that they earned And deserve to be uh welcome back into American communities and given all the Support they need to find careers find Professional Pathways that do justice to The important work they did within the Military well I can't thank you all Enough for this wonderful wonderful Conversation I appreciate you all for Going beyond the scenes with me today That's all the time we have thank you to Our guests Richard and Matthew and be Sure to check out Matthew's new book Half American the Epic story of African Americans fighting World War II at home And abroad thank you both thanks a lot Thank you play my theme music Foreign [Music]

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