Literacy Test, in the
context of United
States political history, refers to the government
practice of testing the literacy of potential citizens at the
federal level, and potential voters at the state level.
federal government first employed literacy tests as part of the
immigration process in 1917. Southern state legislatures employed
literacy tests as part of the voter registration process as early
as the late nineteenth century.
As used by the states, the literacy test gained infamy as a means
for denying suffrage to African Americans. Adopted by a number of
southern states, the literacy test was applied in a patently unfair
manner, as it was used to disfranchise many literate southern
blacks while allowing many illiterate southern whites to vote. The
literacy test, combined with other discriminatory requirements,
effectively disfranchised the vast majority of African Americans in
the South from the 1890s until the 1960s. Southern states abandoned
the literacy test only when forced to by federal legislation in the
1960s. In 1964, the Civil
provided that literacy tests used as a qualification
for voting in federal elections be administered wholly in writing
and only to persons who had not completed six years of formal
education. The Voting Rights
Act of 1965
suspended the use of literacy tests in all states
or political subdivisions in which less than 50 percent of the
voting age residents were registered as of 1 November 1964, or had
voted in the 1964
. In a series of cases, the Supreme
Court upheld the legislation and restricted the use of
literacy tests for non-English-speaking citizens.
passage of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, black
registration in the South has increased dramatically.