As you all know the first annual national Tea Party Convention started today. And it kicked off with a bang with Tom Tancredo, the resident brown people hater of the Tea Bagger movement. As Raw Story notes, he didn't disappoint.
In his speech Thursday to attendees, former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo invoked the loaded pre-civil rights era buzzword, saying that President Barack Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."
Let's take a walk down memory lane on the the "Literacy Tests" and what they stood for, especially in the South.
Prior to passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965, Southern (and some Western) states maintained elaborate voter registration procedures whose primary purpose was to deny the vote to those who were not white. In the South, this process was often called the "literacy test." In fact, it was much more than a simple test, it was an entire complex system devoted to denying African-Americans (and in some regions, Latinos) the right to vote.
Here's a typical registration process for voting in Alabam at the time involving the "Literacy Test":
In the rural counties where most folk lived, you had to go down to the courthouse to register. The Registrars Office was only open two or three days each month for a couple of hours, usually in the morning or afternoon. You had to take off work — with or without your employer's permission — to register. And if a white employer gave such permission, or failed to fire Black who tried to vote, he could be driven out of business by economic retaliation from the Citizens Council.
On the occasional registration day, the county Sheriff and his deputies made it their business to hang around the courthouse to discourage "undesirables" from trying to register. This meant that Black women and men had to run a gauntlet of intimidation, insults, threats, and sometimes arrest on phony charges, just to get to the Registration Office. Once in the Registrars Office they faced hatred, harassment, and humiliation from clerks and officials.
The Alabama Application Form and oaths you had to take were four pages long. It was designed to intimidate and threaten. You had to swear that your answers to every single question were true under penalty of perjury. And you knew that the information you entered on the form would be passed on to the Citizens Council and KKK.
Many counties used what they called the "voucher system." This meant that you had to have someone who was already a registered voter "vouch" for you — under oath and penalty of perjury — that you met the residence qualification to vote. In some counties this "supporting witness" had to accompany you to the registrars office, in others they were interviewed elsewhere. Some counties limited the number of new applicants a registered voter could vouch for in a given year to two or three. Since no white voter would dare vouch for a Black applicant, in counties where only a handful of African-Americans were already registered only a few more each year could be added to the rolls. And in counties were no African-Americans were registered, none ever could because they had no one to vouch for them.
In addition to completing the application and swearing the oaths, you had to pass the actual "Literacy Test" itself. Because the Freedom Movement was running "Citizenship Schools" to help people learn how to fill out the forms and pass the test, Alabama changed the test 4 times in less than two years (1964-1965). At the time of the Selma Voting Rights campaign there were actually 100 different tests in use across the state. In theory, each applicant was supposed to be given one at random from a big loose-leaf binder. In real life, some individual tests were easier than others and the registrar made sure that Black applicants got the hardest ones.
A typical test consisted of three-parts. For example:
In "Part A" the applicant was given a selection of the Constitution to read aloud. The registrar could assign you a long complex section filled with legalese and convoluted sentences, or he could tell you to read a simple one or two sentence section. The Registrar marked each word he thought you mispronounced. In some cases 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 able to "read and write," or if you were "illiterate."
In Parts "B" and "C," you had to answer two different sets of four written questions each. Part "B" was 4 questions based on the excerpt you had written down. Part "C" consisted of 4 "general knowledge" questions about state and national government.
I confess, I and I think a lot of people might have a problem with this today if they had to not only pronounce but interpret parts of the constitution. And think about the educational gaps for Blacks back then. Just astounding.
And after all this, your name was printed in the newspaper to let everyone know that you had registered to vote. Employers, landlords, etc. So you can see how intimitading the entire process was. Not to mention that all this information was secretly passed to the KKK. And you can imagine what they would do with that information.
So here comes Tom "Racist" Tancredo, who never met a brown person he wouldn't like to kick out of the country, to bring back all the hatred, fear and loathing that the words "Literacy Tests" invoke for minorities.
I have no doubt that there is some validity to the Tea Party's "less government" mantra, but with Tancredo's kick off speech today, we are seeing the REAL reason they want the "Take the country back". A black man is President and their White Privelege is fading. Yeah, I said it, and I truly believe it
Apparently the organizer of the convention, Judson Phillips is a racsit too. From Jay Newton-Small at Time's Swampland blog
The presence of more than 100 credentialed media was a bit of a distraction. Obviously unused to dealing with certain media outlets, I'm told by TIME colleagues that Judson Phillips – the convention's main organizer – was at first taken aback when an al Jazeera correspondent introduced herself to him. "Do you have a problem with my outlet?" she asked when he didn't shake her hand. "Yes, I'm an American," Phillips responded. But, by later that night, he'd clearly spoken with his media advisors because he made a point of welcoming al Jazeera along with the rest of the media. (As a side note, all the local Nashville press were left out.)
O.M.F.G. Are they SERIOUS about this crap?