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Update: This is a diary about literacy tests and voting rights. It seems my choice of title caused some confusion about what the body may hold, please accept my apologies for being less than clear.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? This was the question posed by Jeff Foxworthy's (the "you might be a redneck if...." comedian) trivia game show. As viewers quickly learned, no, most of the contestants were NOT smarter than a 5th grader. Facts of history, geography, grammar and more had long slipped from their memories...while the same facts remained fresh in the minds of the 5th grade kids.

 photo smarter-5th-grader.jpg

The show was mildly entertaining...the contestants were playing for money and the kids seemed to be having a good time. Whether one was as 'smart' as a 5th grader or not really didn't matter, it was a game show, everyone was having fun.

Not so in 1960's Louisiana...where whether or not you could prove yourself smarter than a 5th grader directly affected your right to vote.

At least, that is, if you were Black.

Louisiana was not the only State to present a literacy test to those wishing to vote. It is, however, the State that devised the most evil 'literacy test' I've ever seen. In 1964 Louisiana, in order to vote, you had to show proof of a 5th grade education (how on earth does one prove a 5th grade education?). If you were unable to provide PROOF of your elementary school had a whopping 10 minutes to pass the 'Literacy Test' (if you were Black)

While state law mandated that the test be given to everyone who could not verify that they had at least a 5th-grade education, in real life almost all Blacks were forced to do so even if they had a college degree while whites were often excused from taking it no matter how little education they had.

Determination of who "passed" and who "failed" was entirely up to the whim of the Registrar of Voters — all of whom were white. In actuality, whites almost always "passed" no matter how many questions they missed, and Blacks almost always "failed" in the selective judgement of the Registrar.... - Civil Rights Movement Veterans website

So, whites wrote the test. Whites judged the test. Whites made sure that only whites passed the test. Seems fair, yes? /facepalm

The Civil Rights Movement Veterans website has, in their amazing collection of history from that era, samples of several of those hateful tests.

I'm pickin' on Louisiana because it is the one I happened across yesterday...and because, having dug a bit deeper, it is hands down the most vile and depraved of those tests I've seen.

Some of the people I have shown it to (my brothers, sister, parents, friends) thought it just HAD to be a joke...that there was no way anyone could have been that transparent in their attempts to steal the Constitutional right to vote from others. Across the board it was met with sadness...and anger.

While I am fully aware that such evil exists in still boggles my mind to see it applied in such a black and white (heh) manner. No attempts to hide the intent. Blatant full bore no holds barred in your face loud and proud blanket...RACISM. /shakes head

Not from 200 years ago...not from a point in history so far removed that those living were not directly affected by it. This was a mere 5 years before my birth. My parents were nearly of voting age themselves (while they were 19yrs old in ' was not until '71 that the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age 18). This is a test that men and women living today had to take. A test they were told they had failed. A test that prevented them from exercising their right to vote. I truly cannot even begin to imagine living in a country, still, with those memories (and far worse) so easily accessed. It has only increased my (already great) admiration of those who fought for justice during those sad days of our nation.

I am beginning to ramble a bit, as I am wont to doing. If I continue it will just turn into a long-winded poorly punctuated rant (I know I must drive the teachers and grammar police bonkers).

My main point in this was to show y'all the 1964 Louisiana Literacy test below.

Please take the time to read it through...but, remember, you only have 10 minutes and if you miss one you fail. If you lose one of the most powerful rights this country has to offer.

 photo LiteracyTestPageOne.jpg

 photo LiteracyTestPageTwo.jpg
 photo LiteracyTestPageThree.jpg
*you may have noticed the word "have" missing from the last question on the test, now, to be fair (/snort), it was not missing from the original test: Scan of original 1964 test.

Let me leave you with this.

Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, only 31.6 percent of the Black population in Louisiana was registered to vote statewide — mostly in the New Orleans area — and a far lower percentage in the counties where we worked. By 1988, the percentage of Blacks registered to vote had increased to 77.1 percent, a higher percentage than whites by 2 percent. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, there were only 72 elected African-American office-holders in the South. By 1976, that number had increased to 1,944 men and women of color. - Jeff Schwartz
The wheels of justice do indeed turn slowly...but, my god, look how far we have come (and, yes, look how far we have yet to go).

With the Supreme Court's decision to hit the Voting Right's Act where it hurts, the doors have been opened for racist shenanigans.

I'd like to believe we have come too far to worry about seeing anything as morally bankrupt as the Literacy tests of days past...but sometimes I wonder.

Put the heat on your Senators and Representatives...push them to rewrite and pass new guidelines for enforcing the existing Voting Right's Act. Or, perhaps, it is time we push for a whole and complete new one. I like Pelosi's call for naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Lastly, I have to admit....according to 1964 Louisiana, I am NOT smarter than a 5th grader.

If I were Black, I'd not have been allowed to exercise my right to vote.

How 'bout you? Would you have been allowed to vote?

 photo Vote4.jpg
 photo Vote3.jpg

Originally posted to Look What I Can Do on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 04:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by Louisiana Kossacks, Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Let America Vote! That will become a mantra for (16+ / 0-)

    all of us who care about this country and it's ability to extend the dignity of enfranchisement to all our citizen's in every state.  Until that day is enshrined in legislation and an Amendment to the Constitution







  •  Coming soon to a State near you: (11+ / 0-)

    a "heterosexuality test" for voting. Which is about as silly as a literacy test.

    They'll want to break your bank for all sorts of different kinds of IDs, too. Maine defeated a bill like that when it came out that there are so few places where you can go to get an ID that it could disenfranchise white Roman Catholics who speak French at home (about one-fifth of the State) but tend to vote Republican.

    You'll never hear a candidate here advocating for "English Only" either. Our own Governor's second language is English (first being Canadian French).

    It's funny that when voting rights impact minorities that tend to be reliably conservative, the politicians have a very different view.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 12:08:42 PM PDT

  •  I think the title worked against you. (14+ / 0-)

    The diary deserved more eyes than it seems to have gotten.

    And despite decades of education, I can see myself failing that test, because there were multiple questions that I could come up with different ways to interpret the question, and thus different ways to answer it.  I found it suspicious, for instance that in some questions to 'circle' something, it instructed you to 'circle' it, while in others, it said 'draw a line around', as if there might be some other meaning.

    And make a small cross above the letter x?  Where I've seen such instructions before, a 'cross' meant an 'x' shape, but here it might literally be asking for a cross shaped like the Biblical symbol for all I know.

    •  I may not have an extensive education... (10+ / 0-)

      but I'm no dolt. There is no way I could take that 'test' in 10 minutes. Each question was written in an intentionally deceptive manner...requiring it to be re-read (sometimes multiple times) in order to suss out what it was they were looking for.

      I daresay that NO ONE could 'pass' that test unless the one administering it WANTED you to pass it.

      In fact, this, from the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website, describes how it was impossible to pass unless 'they' wanted you to pass:

      Every white applicant passed the test and, every African-American applicant failed. How is this possible? Here's how:

      - Any spelling error by an African-American applicant would be deemed sufficient by the white parish registrars to fail the candidate, but not for white applicants.

      - Punctuation errors were treated the same: failure for Blacks, but not for whites.

      - Circling any of the words "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" instead of underlining the correct word would be grounds for failing an African-American applicant, but not for whites.

      - When it came to interpreting a provision of the US Constitution, Black applicants would be asked to interpret the "full faith and credit" clause of Article IV, section 1 of the US Constitution or the "privileges and immunities" clause. But not for whites, they would be asked to explain the meaning of the "freedom of speech or freedom of religion" provisions of the First Amendment.

      - Then the test — and how it was graded and administered — got even more insidious. Check out question 21. It says: "Spell backwards, forwards". If a Black person spelled "backwards" but omitted the comma, he/she would be flunked. If a Black person spelled "backwards," he/she would be flunked. If a Black person asked why, he/she would be told either "you forgot the comma," or "you shouldn't have included the comma," or "you should have spelled 'backwards, forwards'". Any plausible response by a white person would be accepted, and so would any implausible response.

      - The same crazy unfairness was apparent in question 27. It was not a test of literacy at all. Question 27 read: "Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here." If a Black person were to print the answer, he/she would be failed because it says "write" so cursive writing was required. Not so for white people. If a Black person were to write "right" he/she would be failed. Why? Because, the registrar would say, you're supposed to write "right from the left to the right". If a Black person were to write "right from the left to the right", he/she would be failed. Why? Because, the registrar would say, you're supposed to write "right from the left to the right as you see it here." But not for white applicants; for them, any answer would be accepted.

      As to the title, what would you suggest? I'm not the least bit averse to a change.


      Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

      by Kysen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 05:20:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, because the trivial answer is that if (0+ / 0-)

      you are older the answer is "no" and if you are younger the answer is "yes"

      But yet the situation turned out to be more convoluted than that!

  •  This diary should be required reading (11+ / 0-)

    for everyone - who fails to understand the hoops we were forced to jump through to simply attempt to cast a ballot.

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 05:41:51 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, Dee... (5+ / 0-)

      I have to admit that, while I have long known of the literacy tests, I NEVER realized how in your face evil they were.

      I just assumed (yah, yah, I know the dangers that lie there) that they were actual 'literacy' tests that took advantage of the lack of education of many poor blacks and other 'darker' Americans (that, in and of itself, was horrible enough for me).

      So, yes, I am guilty of failing to fully grok just how insane the hoops were...though, I was well aware that hoops existed.

      Big hugs your way...

      Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

      by Kysen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 05:51:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Who Should Be Ashamed? (7+ / 0-)

    These" literacy tests" became common during the so-called "Redemption" that occurred when federal troops were removed from the Confederate states after the Civil War.  

    White voters were generally not required to take the literacy test (there was a grandfather clause in these laws - if your grandfather had been registered to vote you didn't have to take the test.  That's where the term "grandfather clause" originated.  Really.)

    There is no forgiveness for the men who created this injustice.  But, what about the men who allowed this to exist for a century?

    That would be the U.S. Congress and U.S. Supreme Court.  They were to ones whose judgment was that White Supremacy trumped anything in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.  They weren't stupid or blind.  They really thought this was justice.

    •  I did not know this: (5+ / 0-)
      (there was a grandfather clause in these laws - if your grandfather had been registered to vote you didn't have to take the test.  That's where the term "grandfather clause" originated.  Really.)
      Thank you for the factoid.

      And, yes, I think that is plenty'o'shame to go around. Whenever an entire people are treated as lesser than...everyone should be ashamed. Most especially those writing/voting for/instituting the laws that make such an evil 'legal'.

      Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

      by Kysen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 06:15:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  While we're digressing... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "factoid" can be taken as kind of an insult, as it implies either "true but trivial" or "untrue but repeated so often people believe it" (a Foxtoid, if you will). I know you meant it as "cool nugget of info" here, though. At least I found it a cool nugget -- if I'd ever known it, I'd forgotten.

        •  /grin... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Villanova Rhodes

          Thank YOU for yet another 'cool nugget of info' (as, indeed, I meant to denote).

          I think of 'factoid' as those random bits of interesting info I tuck away in the unlabeled folds of my mind.

          I did not realize some might use the word differently.

          Thanks for the heads up!


          Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

          by Kysen on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 07:31:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Is that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Is that where Paris in the the spring comes from or does it predate the test?  I saw it in Brain Games on NatGeo a little while ago as an example of an optical illusion that will trick most people[most people will skip one of the the's when reading it].

  •  Honestly, if we were to have a literacy test (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    for voting (and I'm not saying we should), trick questions like some of these would be great for ensuring that voters are not fooled by blatant BS from the candidates.

    Chechnya: Russia's North Carolina.

    by NE2 on Sun Jun 30, 2013 at 11:55:50 PM PDT

  •  Thanks, excellent (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 04:52:39 AM PDT

  •  I'm in favor of voter qualification tests (0+ / 0-)

    Obviously, they should be applied to all prospective voters and constructed and scored fairly. But a test such as this one (basically a kind of IQ/cognitive ability test) seems reasonable, along with tests of national and state history, civics, and basic legal principles. I think they should be administered similarly to how drivers' tests are. I also think there should be national and state tests (since in addition to state-specific history, we are stuck with the concept of state sovereignty and therefore of separate state legal principles and civics).

    There are several reasons why I feel this way. First, it would increase the electorate's knowledge of principles that are at the center of electoral decision-making. These are subjects that should be considered as important as the 3 Rs in a democracy such as ours, but they are routinely given short shrift. Second, in some elections (not in all states), voters are voting on actual laws or constitutional amendments. In what universe is it reasonable for voters to vote for or against a legal text they are incapable of reading? In a similar way, knowledge of history, how government operates, and basic legal principles permeates every election, at every level. We would have a better, stronger democracy if every voter had that knowledge. As for cognitive abilities, electoral decisions must be made in a rhetoric-heavy atmosphere, and it would help considerably if voters were able to apply logic to help clarify the issues and facts before them. Finally, a formal test of this nature would also cause the act of voting to be valued more highly, I believe. It's too easy now to claim that such-and-such a group of voters is “stupid” and therefore the result of the election is based on fundamental misunderstanding. If such a “voting license” exam were required of all voters, perhaps that perception would occur less frequently.

    As for the Louisiana test, it isn't bad as a primitive test of cognitive abilities (for a comparison, google for mini-mental state exam or Montreal cognitive assessment). The problem was in how it was scored (one error is failure, subjective opinion of registrar) and more obviously: when and to whom it was given, and its purpose.

    •  This is the exact opposite of what (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kysen, Theodore J Pickle

      democracy is about - you are supporting the idea of an electoral "educated" elite.

      IQ? Cognitive tests?

      I almost laughed reading it until I realized you are serious.


      Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

      by Denise Oliver Velez on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 03:57:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

        For example, if in order to be completely democratic, everyone must be allowed to vote regardless of whether they can comprehend the issues, then why not let school children vote? Why not preschoolers? There is absolutely nothing undemocratic about voting tests, as long as they are applied reasonably and fairly.

        Furthermore, it's easy to say that voting tests are inherently undemocratic, but please give me an actual reason. For example, I hereby assert that someone who is completely illiterate should not have the right to vote, because they would be completely dependent on other people not only for their understanding the issues, but also for the actual mechanics of voting. In other words, I believe that it is actually quite undemocratic to allow illiterate people to vote in today's elections. What is your argument in favor of allowing illiterate people to vote (as they can under our present system)?

        •  do you realize that literacy (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          shanikka, Kysen

          has no relationship to intelligence?

          Or understanding of issues?

          Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

          by Denise Oliver Velez on Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 10:48:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Because Children Lack (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The cognitive ability to discern long-term consequences, for one?

          As far as the actual reason that voting tests are "undemocratic", here's the reason: true democracy is built upon the concept of one man/one vote. Not "one man I think is smart enough". Not "one man who can clear a hurdle I think he should clear." But one man, one vote.

          My argument for allowing illiterate people to vote is my relatives over the age of 80 who were raised in dirt-poor families busy sharecropping and if they were lucky got 6 years of schooling before they had to quit, who demonstrate a lot more sense about politics and rights than you have in these posts and who have voted in every election since voting suppression methods were finally torqued by the VRA in 1965.  I'd take their form of "intelligence" over yours. Any day.

    •  Jesus (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Theodore J Pickle, Kysen

      Why on Earth does someone ALWAYS see these tests which were deliberately designed to restrict the right to vote and say, "I support that. We could totally make it fair?" ALWAYS.

      Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

      by moviemeister76 on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 04:27:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Are you on CRACK?????? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Do you have any real knowledge of cognitive science, which shows NO relationship between what we call "literacy" and human intelligence and reasoning ability? Do you have ANY clue that what we in the western world call "logic" is in fact rife with cultural assumptions that are not all tied to actual, true, logic (in the mathematical sense?) Do you have ANY study in the science of "intelligence", a science which to this day cannot even agree on what IQ actually measures?????

      And although I already know the answer to this question, do you have any idea how many citizens who worked to build this nation would be unable to vote if you got your way?

      No you clearly don't have a clue.  You're just throwing big words around.

      Your attempted defense of tests by claiming that the Louisiana one "isn't bad as a primitive test" deliberately ignores the history: these tests would not exist at all but for one reason: to cull the voting pool of Blacks. You cannot cleanse an evil of this type by claiming that if only it's administered "fairly" it is "not so bad. It is evil in design, evil in intent, and fundamentally violative of the principles of one man (one woman)/one vote.

      I am disgusted.

  •  this is fascinating (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Theodore J Pickle, Kysen

    In 1961, my white, very Yankee father was transferred to New Orleans.  When he went to register to vote, he was denied the opportunity completely, based on his obvious non-Southern accent. I am amazed at this test, that he would have aced, I'm sure.  He never dared to take my mother to the registrar's office because, and I quote, "she would have climbed right over there desk at them."  Later, some of the local pols said they'd handle it for him so he would walk right in to get his card, but he was too pissed to care any more.

    As an added note, his fertilizer salesman were banned from working their accounts among Mississippi farmers because they has out-of-state licenses.  Um, Louisiana plates on cars driven by native-born cajuns?  So, who was hurt?  The farmers, I'd say.  Nose, meet spite.

  •  I wouldn't have been allowed to vote (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    if I were Black. Apparently, I am not smarter than a fifth grader either, at least not enough so to finish the test in ten minutes. And there is an awful lot of wiggle room left for the scorers in that test, an awful lot. For example, in qjuetion 24: is "wow" a word or an exclamation, therefore not permissible as an answer?

    An organ donor saved my life!

    EVERYTHING that is wrong with America starts with the Republican party, who have been strip-mining the middle class and blaming it on black people since Lee Atwater.


    by Kitsap River on Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 04:36:40 PM PDT

    •  I wondered (0+ / 0-)

      I was curious what was meant by that question as well.  Eventually I came up with toot which seemed safe.  But I wonder if 'bod' works or 'peep' though I assume both couldn't work.

      Also at the last question when it said both 'write' and 'print', I got concerned that write meant cursive in which case I would have failed hard most of the questions.

  •  They had to be high (0+ / 0-)

    When they created that test. Who would come up with such weird things unless they were?

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 02:48:58 AM PDT

  •  Great diary, thanks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope. When we fight one, we fight them all. - Charles M. Blow

    by blueoregon on Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 05:02:41 PM PDT

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