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The Burke-Wadsworth Act was passed by Congress on Sept. 16, 1940, as the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States. As a result, Selective Service was born and the registration of men between the ages of 21 and 36 began exactly one month later. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who had helped move the Roosevelt administration away from a foreign policy of strict neutrality, began drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl and those numbers were handed to the president, who read them aloud for public announcement. Some 20 million young men were elligible, 50% of whom were rejected the very first year, either for illiteracy (20%) or health reasons. The draft ages expanded to include 18-20 year olds in 1942. African Americans were passed over for the draft until 1943 because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. Later, a “quota” was imposed to limit the numbers of blacks drafted to reflect their numbers in the overall population — roughly 10.6% of the whole. Initially, these troops were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally put in combat.
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