30

According to the Michigan-based Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, this is an excerpt of the text of the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test:

  1. If it were proposed to join Alabama and Mississippi to form one state, what groups would have to vote approval in order for this to be done?________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________

  2. The Vice President presides over ____________________________________________.

  3. The Constitution limits the size of the District of Columbia to ____________________ ______________________________________________________________________.

I have found several Jim-Crow-era literacy tests like this, but I am skeptical because none show the original documents to be read, and they have ridiculously difficult questions.

Is this a genuine example of a literacy test that was officially used to determine voter eligibility?

  • 1
    Welcome to Skeptics! – Oddthinking Mar 19 '15 at 22:59
  • 1
    I'd have to do a bit of research to see if that is an accurate representation of a test. However, in addition to disenfranchising African-Americans these tests would also have been used to disenfranchise poor and uneducated whites as well so it is feasible that this is an accurate example at first glance. – rjzii Mar 19 '15 at 23:02
  • 5
    @rjzii - Hm? I was under the impression that the poor and uneducated whites would get to skip the literacy tests via grandfather clause. – Compro01 Mar 20 '15 at 0:52
  • @Compro01 Depended on the situation and the background of the the people. By 1965 you didn't see quite as much discrimination against white immigrants in the United States as you did at the turn of the century, but it was still there. – rjzii Mar 20 '15 at 15:36
  • 1
    @Chloe - a poll tax was a tax which had to be paid to a government body to secure the right to vote. It was not a test of knowledge; it was a payment of money, although other record-keeping requirements such as bringing the receipt for the payment of the tax to the polling place in order to be allowed to vote were often part of the voting requirements. Poll taxes served to disenfranchise not just African Americans but poor voters of any race. After all, the last thing any rich wants is a bunch of working-class people voting to get rid of politicians this guy has paid good money for. :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jun 27 '15 at 3:23
23

This will be answered through an argument of authority. While, I do not expect this community to accept the answer, I'm sure it will help.


According to the University of Oklahoma, it is true. Professor John.J.Chiodo regave the quiz in 1996 where it had this objective:

Students take and score the 68 items of the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test to experience in a small way the frustration and the injustice this kind of test produced (45 minutes).

As you see in the snapshot it has the same answer keys you had for the first quiz:

enter image description here

Also, PBS and member stations, America’s largest classroom and the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world, posted this quiz online called The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Tools and Activities | PBS, with the same question of the original quiz as you posted.

enter image description here

The American Bar Association reposted the test: enter image description here

The Quiz is also found in a book called Toward a Literacy of Promise: Joining the African-American Struggle:

enter image description here

The quiz is found on hundreds of university archives, for example, a version is found on Appstate.edu and the same question is found on uncw.edu too.

Update:

Another skeptis.se member, ChrisW, pointed out, that the exam you mentioned might be one of the many exams that you are questioning, and suggested another similar exam with same level difficulty (if not worse), the test's name is Louisiana Literacy Test, also mentioned by ferris.edu. Snapshot: enter image description here

The good news about this exam is state of tennessee itself posted a version of it! Here is the link (notice blackhistory):

http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/blackhistory/pdfs/Voter%20Test%20LA.pdf

http://www.tn.gov/ reported also:

Another insidious method of eliminating African American votes was the use of literacy tests. Surviving copies of these tests indicate that they were designed to cause the test taker to fail. One commonly used test asked the voter to explain complex passages from the United States Constitution; another test asked confusing, ambiguous questions that could be interpreted in a number of ways, so that every answer could be judged as wrong; some tests were so long, no one could finish them in the allotted time. Some voting places offered “help” – a Tennessee law made it possible for illiterate voters to obtain help marking their ballots . . . if they had voted in 1857! Thus black voters were not permitted to receive help, while illiterate white voters were protected, at least for a while.

Also giving many test samples:

"Literacy & Voter test examples" - Voter registration for Alabama
- [VR ALA]
- Voter tests for Alabama
- [1], [2], [3], [4].
- Voter registration for Mississippi [VRMiss].
- Louisiana Literacy Test
- [LALiteracyTest].

VERY IMPORTANT: VERY WELL REFERENCED REPORT "AUTHETNTIC LITERACY TEST".

  • 7
    It probably goes without saying, but the intent was that the test was only administered to people who were undesirable voters such as black people and immigrants. – Sean Duggan Mar 20 '15 at 12:13
  • 3
    Per the original version of the question, the OP didn't trust the reference because it's a transcript and not a photocopy ("I am skeptical because none show the original documents"); so maybe this or this might help as they look more like photocopies. See also Some have questioned the authenticity of this particular exam from the same source. – ChrisW Mar 20 '15 at 13:28
  • 1
    Yes; but again, if you look at the original version of the question, the OP seems to be looking for any good examples of such a test, and the one that's referenced in the question is just an example of what he or she is questioning. – ChrisW Mar 20 '15 at 15:17
  • 2
    @georgechalhoub .edu in of itself is absolutely no guarantee of something being correct. There's no shortage of people working in universities who are wrong, willing to lie for political reasons or simply stupid. The op was completely right to be a little skeptical of things that sound a bit off and as a result got your very informative reply. If you're never even a little skeptical about anything that turns out to be totally real you're probably not being skeptical enough. – Murphy Mar 25 '15 at 12:45
  • 1
    This really isn't a full answer to the question; the OP was asking whether you can actually demonstrate that these literacy tests are real when there would be (totally agreeable!) political motives to make up these tests in order to discredit segregationists. The Ferris State Uni article doesn't give any examples where they can be authenticated so I guess your answer is no. – J. LS Mar 28 '15 at 11:50
9

Yes it is a genuine test, but it was particular to one county (not all of Alabama) in 1964.


As explained in the congressional record:

In Alabama's tests- used since August 1964, answers to four of the eight questions are In printed material on the test sheet

So for this test, first you would read excerpts:

EXCERPTS FROM THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

Part 1. In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice-President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
Part 2. In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction
Part 3. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.
Part 4. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction

Then there were 4 questions:

INSTRUCTION "C"
(After applicant has read, not aloud, the foregoing excerpts from the Constitution, he will answer the following questions in writing and without assistance:)

  1. In case the president is unable to perform the duties of his office, who assumes them?______________________
  2. "Involuntary servitude" is permitted in the United States upon conviction of a crime. (True or False)___________
  3. If a state is a party to a case, the Constitution provides that original jurisdiction shall be in_________________
  4. Congress passes laws regulating cases which are included in those over which the United States Supreme Court has____________________________ jurisdiction.

I hereby certify that I have received no assistance in the completion of this citizenship and literacy test, that I was allowed the time I desired to complete it, and that I waive any right existing to demand a copy of same. (If for any reason the applicant does not wish to sign this, he must discuss the matter with the board of registrars.) Signed:___________________________________________ (Applicant)

Source: Proceedings of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate, Eighty-Ninth Congress, First Session on S. 1564, March 23-April 5, 1965 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1965) p. 762.

According to The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972 (Oxford University Press 1990):

in February of 1964, the all-white government of Dallas County had further stiffened its already draconian registration requirements by reducing registration to only two days per month, and lengthening the process by requiring applicants to respond to 68 questions about constitutional provisions and government procedures

So the 68-question OP test was specific to Dallas County, Alabama.

  • additional material: books.google.com/… ; jstor.org/stable/… – DavePhD Sep 15 '17 at 21:43
  • How many questions would have been picked form the pool of 68 for a given test ? And what score was necessary to pass the test ? – Evargalo May 2 '18 at 13:51
  • 1
    @Evargalo I'll try to improve the answer. As I read the new references from my comment above, as well as this law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/212/193/… , I'm not sure there were really 68 state-wide questions. There was a 21-question questionnaire where you need to answer all the questions. Specific counties seem to have had additional questions. – DavePhD May 2 '18 at 15:02
  • 2
    @Evargalo another reference says "in February of 1964, the all-white government of Dallas County had further stiffened its already draconian registration requirements by reducing registration to only two days per month, and lengthening the process by requiring applicants to respond to 68 questions about constitutional provisions and government procedures." google.com/… So I think the OP test was specific to that county, not statewide. – DavePhD May 2 '18 at 15:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .