Alabama Voter Literacy Test (c. 1965)

See also Alabama Voter Application Form (c. 1965)

See also How it Worked in Alabama for a description of the typical Alabama voter-registration process prior passage of the Voting Rights Act.

In Part "A" of the Literacy Test you are given a section of the Alabama Constitution to read aloud. The sections are taken from a big loose-leaf binder. Some are easier than others. If white applicants are given the test at all, they generally get the easy ones. The Registrar makes sure that Black applicants get the hardest ones — the ones filled with legalese and long convoluted sentences. For example, a white applicant might be given:

SECTION 20: That no person shall be imprisoned for debt.

While a Black applicant might be given:

SECTION 260: The income arising from the sixteenth section trust fund, the surplus revenue fund, until it is called for by the United States government, and the funds enumerated in sections 257 and 258 of this Constitution, together with a special annual tax of thirty cents on each one hundred dollars of taxable property in this state, which the legislature shall levy, shall be applied to the support and maintenance of the public schools, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to increase the public school fund from time to time as the necessity therefor and the condition of the treasury and the resources of the state may justify; provided, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to authorize the legislature to levy in any one year a greater rate of state taxation for all purposes, including schools, than sixty-five cents on each one hundred dollars' worth of taxable property; and provided further, that nothing herein contained shall prevent the legislature from first providing for the payment of the bonded indebtedness of the state and interest thereon out of all the revenue of the state.

The Registrar marked each word that in his opinion you mispronounced. In some counties, you had to orally interpret the section to the registrar's satisfaction. You then had to either copy out by hand a section of the Constitution, or write it down from dictation as the registrar spoke (mumbled) it. White applicants usually were allowed to copy, Black applicants usually had to take dictation. The Registrar then judged whether you were "literate" or "illiterate." His judgement was final and could not be appealed.

After that, you were given Parts "B" and "C" which were two sets of four written questions that you had to answer.

Alabama Voter Literacy Test Parts "B" and "C"

The parts "B" and "C" that we link to above are some examples from workbooks that Citizenship School teachers used to teach applicants what to expect when they went down to the courthouse to register. For that reason, the correct answers for each question are shown.

 — © Bruce Hartford

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