From Slate: Literacy Test Given to Black Voters in the 1960s

The Supreme Court of the United States discontinued a provision of the voting rights act of 1965 which made it mandatory for jurisdictions that have had a history of racial discrimination through using a test or device to impede voting access to obtain federal approval before making changes to their voting laws.

Here is an example of a literacy test that was used in Louisiana. (Scans from the Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website) Click on the images to enlarge them.

In this video, civil rights activist and representative John Lewis talks about voter ID legislation, literacy tests, and the importance of the voting rights act of 1965.

In this press release, Rep. Lewis blasts the Supreme Court’s  decision to overturn the provision requiring federal oversight before changing their voting laws for jurisdictions which have a history of racial discrimination, calling it a “dagger” in the heart of voting access.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, some states have already moved forward with voting restrictions that could lead to disenfranchisement.

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. Update: This test—a word-processed transcript of an original—was linked to by Jeff Schwartz, who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality in Iberville and Tangipahoa Parishes in the summer of 1964. Schwartz wrote about his encounters with the test in this blog post.

Read the full article at Slate’s Vault Blog.

Because voting access has been compromised,


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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3 Responses

  1. dorleem says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Relando. I think that many of us may have been unaware of the fact that African American voters had been given literacy tests as a way of preventing them voting access.

    By the way, I wanted to share with you this wonderful resource that pbs put together on that time period for us to access “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow”

    • You’re very welcome Dorlee, I agree. The fact that African American voters were given literacy tests as a way of denying their access is a truth that, although undeniable, is not often told in the common discourse.

      Thank you for sharing this link! I’ll be sure to check it out, and share it with others as well.

  1. April 16, 2014

    […] Voting Rights Act on his side in this debate. But he has the facts on his side. And he has history, ancient and immediate, on his side. It’s time he took those facts, and this debate, to enemy ground. […]

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