How Did Southern States Prevent African Americans From Voting In The First Half Of The Twentieth Century?

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In addition to using intimidation and violence, Southern states developed three basic methods to keep African Americans from voting in the early part of the twentieth century. These methods were the poll tax, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. The poll tax required a voter to pay a fee before exercising the right to vote, keeping those, especially African Americans, without sufficient income away from the polls. Literacy tests were implemented as a prerequisite to voting, thus keeping many southern African Americans and poorly educated whites from casting their ballots. Last, most Southern states adopted a piece of legislation known as the grandfather clause, which extended voting rights only to those citizens who had been able to vote as of a certain date. This effectively barred most African Americans from voting since they had not gained the right to vote until the ratification (approval) of the Fifteenth Amedment to the Constitution (the document containing the country's laws. The use of such methods was not challenged in court until 1964, when the Twenty-fourth Amendment was passed to defend citizens against the use of the poll tax in elections and primaries. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act outlawed measures that specifically suppress minority votes. The following year poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses were all finally determined to be unconstitutional (in violation of the U.S. Constitution).

Further Information: Davidson, Chandler, and Bernard N. Grofman, eds. Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965–1990. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; "Poll Tax." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available, November 1, 2000; Voting. [Online] Available, November 1, 2000.