Instructions to Louisiana Registrars
Negro Voting in Louisiana, Baton Rouge Committee on Registration Education.
CORE Voter Registration Training Materials
This Louisiana literacy test, circa 1963, is typical of the tests used by various Louisiana parishes before passage of the Voting Rights Act. It was used to deny Blacks — and other non-whites — the right to vote. State laws enacted in 1960 and 1962 mandated the basic content of the process, but the parishes implemented the law as they saw fit, so the forms used in one parish might look different from those in another parish.
Among other requirements, the Louisiana voter registration laws restricted registration to citizens of "good character." Disqualifiers included (but were not limited to) living in a common-law marriage or having an "illegitimate" child. The determination of who was or wasn't of "good character" (or "illegitimate") was left up to the local Registrar of Voters. Applicants were also required to swear that they were, "well disposed to the good order and happiness" of the State of Louisiana and will "fully abide by the laws of this state." This provided a pretext for the Registrar to bar anyone known to oppose racial segregation or who had at any time in the past defied any of the myriad segregation laws.
The "citizenship test" component then asked questions about government and law, many of them obscure, and few people — Black or white — could correctly answer all of them without advance study. If you were Black and missed two or more questions you "failed," if you were white and couldn't even read the questions, let alone answer them, the Registrar could still choose to register you.
Since determination of who "passed," or "failed," and who was of "good character" was entirely up to the whim of the Registrars — all of whom were white — whites almost always "passed" regardless of their character and no matter how poorly they performed on the test. The number of Blacks able to register varied from parish to parish, but as a general rule the larger the Black population in a given parish the harder it was to register, and very few were allowed to register in parishes where Blacks were the majority.
[NOTE that at one time we also displayed a "brain-twister" type literacy test that may have been used during the summer of 1964 in Tangipahoa Parish and possibly elsewhere in Louisiana. We removed it from this website because it was not representative of the Louisiana tests in broad use during the 1950s and '60s.]
— © Bruce Hartford