On this date in history, the Burke-Wadsworth Act was enacted by Congress. More formally known as The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, Pub.L. 76–783, 54 Stat. 885, the law authorized the first peacetime conscription in United States history. This Selective Service Act required that men between the ages of 21 and 35 register with local draft boards.
Later, when the U.S. entered World War II, the draft ages expanded at both ends of the age range. The terminal point of service was extended to six months after the war. From 1940 until 1947—when the wartime selective service act expired after extensions by Congress, approximately 34 million men had registered, and over 10,000,000 men were inducted.
At first, blacks were passed over for the draft because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. But more men were invariably required, and in 1943, a “quota” was imposed for recruitment of blacks, to be approximately equivalent to their percentage of the population as a whole. Initially, blacks were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally used in combat.
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