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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