Take the Impossible “Literacy” Test Louisiana Gave Black Voters in the 1960s
Take the Impossible “Literacy” Test Louisiana Gave Black Voters in the 1960s
By Rebecca Onion
Posted Friday, June 28, 2013, at 12:30 PM
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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. 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.
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, singular among its fellows, 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.”
Louisiana Voter Literacy Test, circa 1964. Via the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website.
There is no stupider creature on earth than a poor Republican. Such a person would stand in line to be sodomized and then thank their assailant afterward.
And this is what Republicans would like to restore in America!
Voting woz simpler in ozz.
They poizoned the black's waterholes. And gave blacks sugar mixed with poizon. In many towns the main street iz named after the guy who shot most blacks.
But of course that woz the bad ol days in ozz -- u know -- before about 1930.
While the usofa gav blacks voting tests, in ozz we simply didnt lettum vote. Of course that woz in the bad ol days in ozz -- u know -- before about 1988.
Voting rights of Australian Aborigines
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The acquisition of voting rights by Indigenous Australians began in the mid-19th century but was not completed in every jurisdiction until the mid-20th century. Under Australia's Federal system, restrictions on Aborigines voting in State and Federal elections varied until the 1960s, during which decade all remaining restrictions were eradicated.
In 1962, the Menzies Government (1949-1966) amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to enable all Aboriginal Australians to enrol to vote in Australian Federal Elections. In 1965, Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on Aborigines voting in state elections. The Holt Government's 1967 Referendum overwhelmingly endorsed automatic inclusion of Aboriginal people in the national census.
Indigenous Australians had first begun to acquire voting rights along with other adults living in Britain's Australian colonies from the mid-19th Century. Other than in Queensland and Western Australia, Aboriginal men were not excluded from voting alongside their non-indigenous counterparts in the Australian colonies and in South Australia Aboriginal women also acquired the vote from 1895 onward. Following Federation in 1901 however, new legislation restricted Aboriginal voting rights in Federal elections. For a time Aborigines could vote in some states and not in others, though from 1949, Aborigines could vote if they were ex-servicmen and by 1967 Aborigines had equal rights in all states and territories. In 1971, Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal to sit in the Federal Parliament. In 1984, compulsory enrolment and voting in Commonwealth elections for Indigenous Australians came into effect.
Some Aboriginal people voted in the very first Commonwealth election. Point McLeay, a mission station near the mouth of the Murray River, got a polling station in the 1890s and Aboriginal men and women voted there in South Australian elections and voted for the first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901. However, it was not until 1983 that indigenous Australians had equivalent voting rights to other Australians, that is compulsory voting at all Commonwealth elections.
Section 41 of the Australian Constitution on its face appears to give the right to vote in federal elections to those who have the right to vote in state elections. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, provided that "No aboriginal native of Australia ... shall be entitled to have his name placed on an Electoral Roll unless so entitled under section forty-one of the Constitution". However, Sir Robert Garran, the first Solicitor-General, interpreted section 41 to give Commonwealth voting rights only to those who were already State voters in 1902, limiting those rights to a theoretical maximum of only a few hundred indigenous people.
Garran’s interpretation of section 41 was challenged in 1924 by Mitta Bullosh a Melbourne resident Indian who had been accepted as a voter by Victoria but rejected by the Commonwealth. He won his case in the District Court, and the Commonwealth government later withdrew a High Court challenge to the judge's ruling. The Electoral Act was subsequently amended. These developments were confined to British subjects of Asian origin resident in Australia. They had no effect on right to vote of Aboriginal people.
In 1949 the federal government passed an Act to confirm that all those who could vote in their states could vote in Commonwealth elections. This gave the right to vote to Aboriginal people in all states except Queensland and Western Australia.
In 1962 the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to give indigenous people the right to enrol and vote in Commonwealth elections irrespective of their voting rights at the state level. If and only if they were enrolled, it was compulsory to vote. However, enrolment itself was not compulsory and it was illegal under Commonwealth legislation to encourage indigenous people to enrol to vote. Any person enrolled who failed to vote could be liable to prosecution and a fine.
In 1983 the Act was amended to remove optional enrolment for indigenous people, removing all discrimination based on race in the Australian electoral system.
There is a common misconception that the 1967 referendum gave Aborigines the right to vote. However, this referendum gave the Commonwealth powers to make laws with respect to the Aboriginal people and counted them in the Census.