Teaching With Documents, Volume 1

Contents:

A Literacy Test

As a result of the Civil War, Afro-Americans secured the right to vote through the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1870). After the close of the Reconstruction era, however, Southern states instituted various policies to restrict the voting rights of blacks. These restrictions included poll taxes, white primaries, property requirements, literacy tests, and the grandfather clause. Although these qualifications were strictly applied to blacks, ways were provided for most whites to bypass the requirements. In some cases, however, these restrictions also kept poor and illiterate whites from exercising their franchise.

In 1901, the State of Alabama passed a state constitutional amendment by which voters were required to pay a poll tax, and either own property or pass a literacy test. These restrictions assured that in some way many blacks could be kept off voting lists. However, in 1949, a Federal District Court outlawed literacy tests in Alabama. Rising to defend a long-standing practice, a 1951 state statute subsequently instituted local control over voter registration, authorizing local registrars to develop and administer local literacy tests at their discretion. By 1964 the State of Alabama had developed one hundred standard literacy tests, from which local registrars selected one to test a voter’s literacy. The literacy test reproduced here, submitted as an exhibit before the Senate in hearings on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is one of these tests. The passage of the Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965) thereafter prohibited all such tests and devices as prerequisites for voting.

This document is found in 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. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1965. Hearings held April 2, 1965, p. 762.

Suggestions for Teaching

You may choose to use Activity 1 or Activity 2, or elements of both. The culminating activities are suggested for use with either activity.

1. The Document as a Reading Tool

a. Administer the literacy test to the class. Limit the amount of time students have to complete the test.

b. Review students’ responses and discuss them with respect to the following:

Have the students ever taken this type of test?

How did the students proceed to take such a test?

c. Review the literacy test with the class by having the students do the following:

• Identify the components of the test. How are they arranged?• Identify unfamiliar words, phrases, etc.• Identify elements of the context in which the above appear which may explain their meaning.• Describe the style of writing of the excerpts and the questions. How are they similar or different? (Consider sentence structure, vocabulary, punctuation, etc.)• Discuss how this type of review might facilitate taking the test.

2. The Document in History

Repeat steps a and b for Activity 1.

Have students review the test by discussing the following:

• Why would such a test be given?• What level of literacy could be determined by such a test?• Is it fair, logical, or practical to use excerpts from the Constitution to test literacy? Why or why not?• What is functional literacy? Would it be a good basis for determining voter qualification?• Should literacy be a requirement for voting? Why or why not?• What was the purpose of voting registration qualifications?• What voting qualifications exist today?


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Culminating Activities

Discuss the background information with students. Assist students in developing a role-play situation based on the background information and the test. Students might begin by setting up a voter registration office, selecting registrar(s) and proctor(s), supplying information related to an election that would have occurred, for example, before 1965. Or have students develop a literacy test to be administered to classmates prior to a real or simulated class election. Have students evaluate the test as a "test" and as a measure of the students’ ability to vote intelligently.

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Chicago: "A Literacy Test," Teaching With Documents, Volume 1 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989), 208–210. Original Sources, accessed October 23, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NFNIJYFGHUHMY46.

MLA: . "A Literacy Test." Teaching With Documents, Volume 1, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Vol. 1, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989, pp. 208–210. Original Sources. 23 Oct. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NFNIJYFGHUHMY46.

Harvard: , 'A Literacy Test' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 1. cited in 1989, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board, Washington, D.C., pp.208–210. Original Sources, retrieved 23 October 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=NFNIJYFGHUHMY46.