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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Take the Impossible “Literacy” Test Louisiana Gave Black Voters in the 1960s

Posted by on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:45 PM
  • 31 Replies

This week’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder overturned Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which mandated federal oversight of changes in voting procedure in jurisdictions that have a history of using a “test or device” to impede enfranchisement. Here is one example of such a test, used in Louisiana in 1964.

After the end of the Civil War, would-be black voters in the South faced an array of disproportionate barriers to enfranchisement. The literacy test—supposedly applicable to both white and black prospective voters who couldn’t prove a certain level of education but in actuality disproportionately administered to black voters—was a classic example of one of these barriers.

The website of the Civil Rights Movement Veterans, which collects materials related to civil rights, hosts a few samples of actual literacy tests used in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s. In many cases, people working within the movement collected these in order to use them in voter education, which is how we ended up with this documentary evidence.  

Most of the tests collected here are a battery of trivia questions related to civic procedure and citizenship. (Two from the Alabama test: “Name the attorney general of the United States” and “Can you be imprisoned, under Alabama law, for a debt?”)

But this Louisiana “literacy” test has nothing to do with citizenship. Designed to put the applicant through mental contortions, the test's questions are often confusingly worded. If some of them seem unanswerable, that effect was intentional. The (white) registrar would be the ultimate judge of whether an answer was correct.

Try this one: “Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write.”  

Or this: “Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here.”

There was little room for befuddlement. The test was to be taken in 10 minutes flat, and a single wrong answer meant a failing grade.

by on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:45 PM
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Replies (1-10):
-Celestial-
by Pepperlynn on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:46 PM

I don't think I could do this in 10 mins.

-Celestial-
by Pepperlynn on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:47 PM

It's been re-typed. Look at line 29 where it says "(original type smaller and first line ended at comma)". 

Mommabearbergh
by on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:49 PM
Bumping
Proud2BWeird
by Member on Jun. 28, 2013 at 8:52 PM
1 mom liked this
This test is written ambiguously and confusingly so the person checking it could fail whomever he wanted to. Just as other example of the depths racists will go to in order to exclude those they deem below them.
yourspecialkid
by Platinum Member on Jun. 28, 2013 at 9:11 PM

 Interesting piece of history.  I am going to print it and give it to my boys.  It will be the opening of a civil rights discussion in our homeschool.  I appreciate the posting.

The SCOTUS said Congress must update the formula used.  This formula is still used in many areas that have very healthy AA voting populations...even AA mayors and legislators. 

-Celestial-
by Pepperlynn on Jun. 28, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Heres a link off the site that has more information.

http://www.crmvet.org/docs/dochome.htm

Quoting yourspecialkid:

 Interesting piece of history.  I am going to print it and give it to my boys.  It will be the opening of a civil rights discussion in our homeschool.  I appreciate the posting.

The SCOTUS said Congress must update the formula used.  This formula is still used in many areas that have very healthy AA voting populations...even AA mayors and legislators. 


stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Jun. 28, 2013 at 10:01 PM

Ridiculous, ambiguous and purposefully confusing.

jessilin0113
by Platinum Member on Jun. 28, 2013 at 10:05 PM

That was insane.  

Della529
by Matlock on Jun. 28, 2013 at 10:08 PM

 Bump for later.

HIJKLM
by Bronze Member on Jun. 28, 2013 at 10:09 PM
1 mom liked this
Yeah it would be hard to get 100% in less than 10 mins. I had to re read a few of them.
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