Primary Document for the Classroom: The Alabama Literacy Test for 1965

citschoolMy friend Deven Black, who has amassed a catalog of history and social studies-related weblinks that could serve as its own doctoral dissertation, sent me a really interesting link from, funny enough, another site, the Social Studies and History Teachers blog.  Both of them are linked here at the Neighborhood.

Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the constitution, eliminating the poll tax, voters often had to climb over difficult hurdles to exercise their constitutional rights.  Until the 1830’s, most voting in the United States had a property restriction–only certain individuals with a certain amount of property could go to the polls.  Since then, the enfranchisement of Americans has extended to all adult citizens aged 18 or older. 

However, this didn’t come easy.

Even with the vote extended to African Americans in 1866, Southern governments made it particularly difficult to cast ballots.  Grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests were used to keep “undesirables” from voting–African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and poor whites.  Since voting requirements were enforced locally, it sometimes mattered more whether the registrar of voters liked you or not rather than any requirement of law.

The literacy test was among the most grotesque examples of this ham-fisted oppression.  Attached is a copy of an Alabama Literacy Test for 1965, taken from the Social Studies and History Teachers blog.  Several versions of the test were created, and this was one of the harder ones.  You can guess who the Alabama government recommended for the harder version. 

Try giving this test to your students and see if they can pass, therefore qualifying to vote. 

Click here to access the test.  It makes a great civil rights lesson, and also a lesson in the importance of knowing about government in order to participate.

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