Louisiana's Impossible 1960s 'Literacy' Test for Blacks

Here is an example of one of the questions: "Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here." The test was to be taken in 10 minutes, and a single wrong answer meant a failing grade.

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So-called literacy tests like this one led to the landmark Voting Rights Act. (Civil Rights Movement Veterans website)

Straight from our "SMDH" file comes a so-called literacy test unearthed by Slate that Louisiana used to administer to voters. It was supposedly geared toward whites and blacks who couldn't prove a certain level of education, but it was really disproportionately administered to African Americans. Surprise!

Here is an example of one of the questions: "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." What? 

The test -- an example of one used in the state in 1964 -- resurfaces during the week that the 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 procedures in jurisdictions that have a history of using a "test or device" to impede enfranchisement.

We're not really surprised by this test. Black voters in the South faced an array of disproportionate barriers to enfranchisement during that time, and many still do today.

Read more at Slate.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM