The Mind-Boggling ‘Literacy Test’ Louisiana Gave To Black Voters In The 1960s

You may have heard that prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (gutted by the Supreme Court a week ago), across much of the American South blacks were denied the right to vote if they failed a literacy test. You might imagine that a literacy test confirms one’s ability to read and write. You would be wrong. Via Slate, take a shot at passing the actual test given to black voters in Louisiana in 1964. Remember that if you want to vote, you must get a perfect score, you have a mere 10 minutes to do the entire test, and half the questions don’t actually make sense. Also your results will be scored by the racist white voting registrar.

literacy test

22 Comments on "The Mind-Boggling ‘Literacy Test’ Louisiana Gave To Black Voters In The 1960s"

  1. emperorreagan | Jul 2, 2013 at 8:25 am |

    The goal was always to disenfranchise, as it is today. Instead of a test, they’ll ask for documents, move polling places, fuck with polling hours, or whatever else they can get away with without oversight. Disenfranchisement is used to maintain power.

    Not that the north is any better. Maryland, for instance, recently redistricted to eliminate a republican congressional district. In doing so, they completely ignored geography, where the population growth was, etc. Really, Maryland should have another majority-minority district. They just chopped things up such that a rich white democrat would replace a rich white republican instead. The traditionally Democratic voting black and Latino communities are simply a means to an end – not ends in themselves.

    The effect is the same – institutionalized racism. It’s just that one way it’s practiced is blatantly discriminatory whereas the other way is more subtle. There’s more than one way to make sure a vote doesn’t really count.

    • Ittabena | Jul 2, 2013 at 8:39 am |

      All true, but this time we seem to be focusing on more on class than race. Although the purge of the black servicemen overseas, who oddly weren’t home to accept a letter, seems to neatly fall into both categories.

      These two guys have been as a voice in the wilderness on this subject. Bless them both.

      According to Greg, Karl Rove is the mastermind behind this latest maneuver.

      George Bush’s brain, hmm…

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jul 2, 2013 at 10:09 am |

      Yes, these things certainly are not helpful.

      But on balance, I tend to think that these things are intended primarily as theatre, to perpetuate old conflicts instead of addressing current crises. Voting is essentially meaningless when candidates are required to belong to one or the other of two totally coopted and corrupted parties.

      It’s helpful for these guys to keep up the street theatre of racial conflict. Otherwise the public would be on to the much more relevant class conflict.

      • Yep, pretty much how it looks to me. More theater . . . voting is a joke when your choices are corporate tool A and corporate tool B.

      • emperorreagan | Jul 2, 2013 at 11:46 am |

        I agree.

        Racial conflict in the US, to some extent, has always been street theatre. A Renegade’s History was an interesting, related book. One of the things it opens with is that it was the moralizers, the John Adamses of the world, who complained that whites, blacks, men, and women were drinking together during the revolutionary era, for instance.

        Institutional racism is a particularly useful tool to create conflict because many people conflate institutional racism and personal racism. It’s difficult to discuss systemic racism because people leap to the assumption that you’re implying that they’re racist…or people who know and experience institutional racism are rightly offended when it’s implied racism is no longer an issue.

      • InfvoCuernos | Jul 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm |

        What with the whole voting machine fraud they are forcing on us, this is obviously a diversion.

        • Liam_McGonagle | Jul 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm |

          True. There are so many facets to this problem.

          There was definite vote rigging in Wisconsin. We have contemporaneous photographic evidence that the Waukesha County tabulators improperly broke open seals, attached (or re-attached) incorrect bag seals, and didn’t maintain a proper log.

          Yet I’m not sure if any of that really matters. Even if those frauds had been thwarted, the only result would have been Tweedle-Dum in office instead of Tweele-Dee. At most, potentially a slightly less aggressive public face on the same old policies.

          • InfvoCuernos | Jul 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

            They really are just front men. There is no way anyone can convince me that GW Bush was running jack shit on his own. Not that he was innocent, just that he was an Oswald. Seeing the continuation of those same policies that he instituted now in a democrat whitehouse tells us all what is really going on.

  2. Reads like some of the math multiple choice exams I’ve seen in high school. Same tactic, but aimed at children.

    • Adamas Macalz | Jul 2, 2013 at 9:30 am |

      even as a kid I never had a problem with those, but I was on legalize cocaine throughout my entire existence in school. That may have something to do with it.

    • The Well Dressed Man | Jul 2, 2013 at 11:42 am |

      My first semester of calculus was almost completely ruined by this.

  3. Adamas Macalz | Jul 2, 2013 at 9:29 am |

    shit, and to think I consider myself literate… I’ve read a good portion of my life away and I find some of these thoroughly confusing

  4. you R all idiots | Jul 2, 2013 at 10:51 am |

    fuck politrix. stop voting. its pointless. results end in lies anyway. schools dont get money from stupid ass casinos…

  5. The Well Dressed Man | Jul 2, 2013 at 11:46 am |

    Somebody had an absolute blast thinking up this test with their mean little pointed head. On a good day, a literate native speaker of above average intelligence would be lucky to get a perfect score in 20 minutes.

  6. Rus Archer | Jul 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |

    best drinking game ever

  7. It’s amazing how we go through great lengths to disenfranchise people groups. Like Adamas posted, we even do it to children. I wonder if the powers that be have ever considered that these children will be the ones to take care of this society when they get older. Why not invest in them instead of stifling their learning, growth and development.

  8. Ladd Curator | Jul 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm |

    This reminds me of a very early IQ test used to determine if an individual was feeble-minded, or “retarded,” in the early part of the 20th century (c.1908).

    A sample can be found about 1/3 down the page, here:

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jul 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm |

      How did the test work? If someone actually published horsesh*t like the test pictured above he’d be certified as a moron?

    • atlanticus | Jul 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm |

      Oh dear…are you really having a problem with this early IQ test?
      Do you really think it’s comparable to these gibberish voting questions?


      I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…

  9. is this real life?

  10. Noah_Nine | Jul 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm |


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