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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Alabama Literacy Test

In the summer of 1964, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Conference on Racial Equality (CORE) conducted massive registration drives in the South.  Met with violent resistance—including the murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi—these drives had only limited success. 

African-American citizens in Selma conducted their own registration drives.  The Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) had been founded before World War II and reinvigorated after the war by Samuel Boynton, its second president.  Boynton, his wife Amelia, and DCVL member Marie Foster held classes to help African Americans in Dallas County pass the literacy tests required for voter registration, but were hampered by a pervasive fear of reprisals from the white community.  In 1963, Dr. F. D. Reese, President of the DCVL, asked SNCC for assistance.  Mass meetings addressed by Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders and organized marches to the Dallas County Courthouse to register to vote had some success.  By 1964, 2.2% of African Americans over 21 were registered to vote in Dallas County; there were no registered black voters at all in neighboring Wilcox and Lowndes counties.

Between August 1964 and July 1965 the State of Alabama used 100 different literacy tests to make it difficult for people to "study" for the test.  Applicants were asked to pick a test at random from a loose-leaf notebook.  The sample test below was used by Rufus A. Lewis in voter education classes for African Americans that he led in Montgomery in the 1960s:





 

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